Cue the foghorns! After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, cruising and overall tourism have resumed in Australia as the government has scrapped its proof-of-vaccination requirement.
To mark the occasion and remind advisors of all the things Down Under has to offer, Marilisa De Simone, Business Development Director for Carnival Cruise Line, and Carla D’Andrea, who supports the Tourism Australia account at VoX International, hosted a Tourism Australia & Carnival Cruise Lines Happy Hour at the Duke of Kent in Toronto’s midtown on 25OCT.
Australia maintained one of the longest and strictest border restrictions in the world. It reopened its international borders to fully vaccinated tourists on 21FEB. Now, as of 08SEP, Canadians no longer have to show proof of vaccination to enter Australia, nor do they have to sign the Digital Passenger Declaration form, although they still need to apply for the ETA visa. Australia’s border authority removed the option for advisors to issue ETAs via their GDS, so clients must apply for these using the Australian ETA app.
A Reopened Australia Beckons With New Experiences
Over deep-fried wings and drinks, travel advisors got a crash course about Australia travel and tips for selling the destination.
As a long-haul destination for Canadians, distance is probably the biggest hurdle for travel agents when they're selling Australia, noted D’Andrea. Indeed, flying from YVR to Brisbane Airport is a 14.5-hour journey, and 15.5 hours into Sydney Airport.
“Usually, a stopover is a good way to alleviate that for your clients and there are so many really great places to do that,” D’Andrea notes.
Another takeaway? Australia’s a lot bigger than you might realize. Flying from East Coast Sydney to West Coast Perth, for example, takes 4.5 hours.
“You can visit Australia in a relatively short period of time, you just need a very good plan. That's what we're here to help you do,” says D’Andrea. “Our rule of thumb generally is three spots in two weeks. So you can do, for example, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. That's a nice, comfortable pace for your clients. You don't want to over-pack their itinerary. It's not a FAM!”
Spotlight on Sydney
D’Andrea gave travel agents a deeper insight into Sydney, Australia’s main port of call and gateway for people flying into the country, sharing the city's new experiences and developments. Here are some highlights:
- Sydney Harbour National Park has new walking trails, more options for escorted hiking tours, and cruise excursions taking guests to some of the neighbouring national park islands.
- The Sydney Opera House has a new tour-and-dine experience where guests can tour the opera before enjoying an Australian-themed dinner at the Opera Kitchen.
- George Street, one of the most lively streets in Sydney’s downtown, has a new pedestrian walkway and a new light rail system that launched in DEC 2019.
- Western Sydney Airport is an under-construction regional airport due to open in 2026.
- Two huge events are coming to Australia in 2023: Sydney World Pride in FEB and MAR and the FIFA Women's World Cup in JUL and AUG.
“[Australia] is very multicultural. It’s one of my favourite destinations,” Allana Haines, Creative Travel & Tours, tells Open Jaw. “A lot of people [booking Australia] are retirees because they have the time–and for Australia, you need the time–and they have disposable income.”
New Aussie Specialist Program Delivers Knowledge and Perks
Tourism Australia's Aussie Specialist Program provides travel advisors with the resources they need to help their clients plan the ultimate Australia experience, with interactive modules, instructor-led classes, product videos, itinerary suggestions, a virtual FAM hub, and collateral to use.
“If you do the full curriculum in one shot, it'll take you 90 minutes, so it's not a long process. It's really user-friendly,” notes D’Andrea.
Certified agents receive a downloadable certificate, the opportunity to use the Aussie Specialist logo on their website and communications, and access to webinars, special events, training seminars, and more. Aussie Specialists can also apply to attend the Corroboree West trade event.
Carnival Splendor and Revamped Carnival Luminosa Take to Aussie Seas
Last month, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) reported that consumer demand for cruising exceeds pre-pandemic levels, according to an independent survey of more than 4,000 people from eight countries. Carnival Cruise Line is noticing the keenness to cruise, too.
According to De Simone, Carnival Cruise Line welcomed an average of about 5 million guests annually pre-COVID. Since restarting 03JUL 2021, the cruise line is trending at almost 4 million passengers.
“Thank you to all of you. That’s a true accomplishment,” De Simone noted.
Two CCL ships will be homeporting in Australia this winter season, fuelling anticipation for the return of cruising in the country. Carnival Splendor and the new (formerly Costa) Carnival Luminosa will be sailing out of Sydney and Brisbane, respectively, starting NOV.
“Luminosa was originally a Costa cruise ship. We revamped her to give her a full new look so she fits in with our other ships, but she still has a little bit of that Mediterranean flair. It’s a really beautiful opportunity for your guests to enjoy sailing out of Brisbane, Australia,” says De Simone.
“It was just a few months ago that head office decided to honour us with this beautiful vessel, which is going to market next month. Because of it, we've had some really phenomenal introductory pricing, also for travel agents rates.”
How do these two ships cater to a Canadian audience? According to De Simone, it all comes down to value.
“Generally, Canadians want value. We're so accustomed to having a lot of inclusions when we're going on vacation,” she says.
“We're seeing people booking further out than traditionally and because of that demand, we have sailings now through APR 2025 in the system. Booking early gets them the best pricing available. Also, because of the exchange rate, we sometimes feel that we're at a disadvantage, so the other thing that's great with our ships is that other cruise lines, depending on where the ship is located in the world, the currency on board will coincide with its destination. If a ship was in Europe, it would be Euros on board. With us, it's always in U.S. dollars, which is more of an advantage.”
De Simone also highlighted the inclusions and diverse experiences on Carnival ships.
“We have a lot more restaurant dining options available that are inclusive where other cruise lines, if they offer something similar, there's a charge or they may not offer it at all. There’s also just so much to do, but you can do as much or as little as you want. You can read a book on the Serenity Deck, go ziplining aboard the ship, go on the roller coaster… Funderstruck, to everyone, means something different.
“A great selling tip for all you here: when you're talking to your clients about cruising and the value, talk about Guy’s Burgers as an example,” notes De Simone. “He charges about US$25 at his land-based restaurants for just a burger. At Carnival, it’s included and it’s endless, to your heart's content. It's a tremendous value.”
- Guests aged 21+ can relax at the complimentary, adults-only retreat area called Serenity.
- Effective 06SEP, Carnival Cruise Line passengers no longer need to provide pre-cruise testing or a vaccination certification.
High Flight Costs Weigh on Cruise Demand
Speaking to travel advisors at the event, Open Jaw heard a common obstacle: Australia is a fabulous destination, but high air fares brought on by rising fuel prices and inflation are a roadblock right now–and they aren’t expected to let up any time soon.
“It’s just so expensive right now. It’s for everywhere, not just for Australia. It’s really gone up,” Haines noted.
“It is what it is. I think it’ll be probably a couple of years before prices go down,” added Deanna Henderson with The Travel Agent Next Door.
De Simone had several strategies for advisors to mitigate the costs for their clients:
- Fly2Fun program
“We have an air program called Fly2Fun, and Sydney and Brisbane are options. Travel agents can always book cruise line air. We’re the biggest airline buyer worldwide because of Carnival Corporation, our parent company, so we have a lot of access to quite reasonable and affordable rates. And the client knows they’re protected, should anything arise with issues with their flights.”
- Economical cruise price points
“The price points we have right now are so economical that if they get a really affordable cruise, that might offset paying a little bit more for the flight.”