2020 was the year the travel and tourism industry around much of the world came to an almost complete halt. Working alongside operators and government, consumers and local businesses now face the task of creating a new world normal to find ways for the travel and tourism industry to be reborn.
GENERAL MANAGER, AJ HACKETT
“AJ Hackett Cairns closed on the 25 March and we quickly established a four-stage plan for recovery: Stage 1 Shutdown, Stage 2 Hibernation, Stage 3 Limited Opening (some domestic, no internationals) and Stage 4 International Markets Resuming Trade. Our time in hibernation was used to maintain the site, develop our COVID Safety Plan and forecast events the next 12-18 months. Of note, this is our 30th anniversary year with AJ Hackett Cairns opening in 1990. So, we have been planning for six weeks of celebrations and events that kick off in August.
“Despite challenges, there are some benefits with us being part of a wider global business. We issued a pandemic response plan in March which became our internal document to ensure the safety of our team and customers coming to our site in the future. We understood that vaccines aren’t developed in weeks and we needed to plan for an environment in which our businesses could sustain COVID safety measures for many months, maybe a year or longer.
“Although AJ Hackett Cairns was closing in late March, we also had AJ Hackett Macau Tower re-opening on 05 April, which saw us have all our businesses closed for only two weeks. This staggering meant we were able to learn a lot about what worked and what needed improvement, which was a great help to us here in Cairns. The situation has certainly made us rethink some of our processes and we have been able to change our check in process such that customers can sign their paperwork prior to arriving on site. We are likely to keep processes like this that have helped us be more efficient on site and better manager customer flows.
“We all know it will be a long, slow recovery, however we have set up three scenarios with an optimistic scenario forecasting some limited international travel returning before the end of this calendar year, and a pessimistic case where international travel does not return until late 2021. Regardless, we don’t expect to see the volumes of travellers return to 2019 levels for some years. The economic consequences of COVID-19 will likely hit late this year and discretionary spending on travel will be curbed for a couple of years for most people. I think we need to be realistic that global shocks often take years to recover.
“Following the shutdown, we were able to reset our businesses – remodel costs, weigh up different staffing and operating procedures, restructure our teams and importantly invest some time and sweat into improving our properties. In Cairns, we completely drained our pond and removed a few years of sediment build up from the natural creek that flows into it over the wet season. We couldn’t have completed all this work without the site in hibernation mode and now it’s looking great!
“All of our businesses have opened with a huge special to our local markets. AJ Hackett Cairns and AJ Hackett Normandie in France opened a few days apart and we have both had a great response with sell-out weekends, all complying to COVID Safe plans. It’s the perfect time for anyone who hasn’t been to our stunning rainforest site to come along and defy gravity, or just come and enjoy the setting with a beer or a glass of wine.”
OWNER OPERATOR, BAD FISHY JET BOATING and CAIRNS BOAT HIRE
“Before lockdown, we were aware that COVID-19 would have implications for the international market as some countries were prevented from travelling altogether and others were encouraging their residents to return home. Most of our business is from the domestic and local market, so we were initially hopefully we could trade through the health issue, but mid-March it became apparent we would have to temporarily close our business. As a family owned and operated business, we initially found this very challenging and worked with our staff to hibernate the business, pull boats out of the water and close our doors.
“We have used the time in lockdown to do some maintenance on our vessels, update training with our crew and work on our marketing and COVID plans for the local and Aussie market. As boating was permitted again on the 2nd May in Queensland, we were able to reopen Cairns Boat Hire’s self-drive pontoon and tinny boats to locals, allowing them to get out and go fishing or sightseeing on the stunning Trinity Inlet. The Bad Fishy Jet Boat will reopen soon and we’re keeping locals up to date via our Facebook page on relaunch details. Our primary focus now, however, is reigniting our business and ensuring we work closely with the Cairns and North Queensland local community who have always been a huge part of what we do.
“Owning a small business means that we work weekends and school holidays and there is always something to do. Taking a break has allowed us to spend quality time with our family, catch our breath, continue on with maintenance projects within our business and plan for the reignition of our business. We come back with focus and clarity and a real appreciation for being part of the Cairns community. We have felt so supported during a very difficult time for our business by our community. We started Bad Fishy Jet Boating and purchased Cairns Boat Hire to offer locals and our guests amazing experiences in the stunning Trinity Inlet in Cairns. We are so grateful to welcome people back and are so thankful to the people of Cairns who have supported our business.
“The recovery period will take significant time and will improve as aviation restarts and borders reopen. In the recovery phase, local and domestic business will be incredibly important for the industry. We have a sublime tourism product offering, natural resources and amazing people in Cairns and as an industry we work collaborative and are very supportive of each other.”
DIRECTOR OF SALES & MARKETING
“When lockdown was put in place in late March, we had to go through the very difficult process of standing down staff across our attractions and touring companies, without a clear indication of a time frame on how long this would be. Being in the unique position of having wildlife parks, we still needed to keep on wildlife keepers to look after and maintain the animals, for which there has thankfully been some specific Federal Government assistance. Within the first week of closure, we started doing Facebook live feeds across each of our park’s pages, with the intention of staying engaged with our guests and visitors. We built this as educational content on the different animals, considering it was being watched by a lot of parents and their children they were home schooling. We saw this as important, firstly to stay connected with locals, keeping in mind they would be the first to be permitted into our attractions, and hopefully they would want to see the animals in person when they could. We also saw people tuning in around Australia as well as internationally, in some cases allowing interstate grandparents to watch with their grandchildren. With children returning to school we have continued these but reduced their regularity.
“Since then, thanks to the Federal Government’s JobKeeper scheme, we have been able to bring back many of our staff, enabling us to work towards making improvements in the lead-up to reopening. At the Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas in particular, we already had significant upgrade and redevelopment projects underway, so these have continued with some completed in time for reopening. Our management team has had to spend a lot of time and effort developing COVID Safe Plans which should allow us to increase our capacity when we reopen. This has focused on ensuring the safety of our staff and visitors, adhering to industry recommended standards around hygiene, social distancing and barriers. It is likely these Plans will need to be kept in place as we continue through each stage of recovery as further restrictions are lifted.
“The ramifications of the decline in tourism will continue to have significant impact on our region’s economy, extending much further beyond just the tourism and hospitality industries. It is a sad reality that this will affect all businesses across our community. As our region has been a long-established international tourist destination, we’ve got an uncertain road ahead regarding recovery. Apart from a potential ‘Trans-Tasman bubble’ that may be established with New Zealand in the coming months, it is unlikely we’re going to see international visitors returning until sometime next year at the earliest. This means we will be relying on locals supporting our local experiences.
“We have also had to look at how we market our attractions, exploring new opportunities across the region, and how we can tweak each of our experiences to make them even more appealing to the local and domestic markets. There are lots of ideas being implemented across each of our parks so we look forward to seeing locals visiting us soon. Being locally owned and operated, the CaPTA Group has always looked after locals in providing discounts, as well as our annual 4 Park Pass which provides the fantastic value of unlimited entry. With the State Government opening up intrastate travel, we should see increased visitation from Queenslanders over the next few months, with self-drive and cheap flight deals hopefully stimulating this as best possible.
“One of the positives is how people have had to adapt their communication whilst in lockdown. Certainly, people have gotten more used to using video messaging and conferencing apps than they ever have before, for both work purposes and talking to friends and relatives. Now that some restrictions are being lifted and people are getting out more, obviously everyone is relieved to be able to see each other and communicate face-to-face again, but many will still utilise this technology to communicate with others further away, whether it be interstate or overseas, more than they ever have before. There has also been an increased demand for online and virtual experiences, so we have been exploring options on how we can roll these out across international markets.”