Drawing a bead on the 15 percenters

WHILE the South West is a perennial favourite for Western Australian holiday makers, tourism operators have been hit by a fall-off in fly-drive and coach markets in recent months.

Fly-drive airline package numbers, which are traditionally used by visitors from the eastern states, have declined since the collapse of Ansett. At the same time coach tours, generally filled by tourists coming in from overseas, also have suffered.

WA Tourism Commission Southern Area manager Mark Exeter said that, even if eastern states tourists comprised only 10 per cent of a business’s market and overseas tourists 5 per cent, the loss of this combined percentage could spell financial disaster.

“Even if the combined eastern states and overseas trade was only 15 per cent of their business, that 15 per cent could be the difference between profit and loss,” Mr Exeter said.

“Those who get the majority of their business from the eastern states and overseas, through coach markets and fly-drive packages through the airlines, are the ones who are reporting that their business is suffering.

“Those operators involved in dive tourism, which is very much an international and overseas market, again have lost bookings, which will take time to recover from.”

Tourism is a major industry in the South West, with 600 businesses directly involved in tourism.

The industry employs 9 per cent of the South West’s workforce and generates an estimated annual economic impact of $675 million.

The downturn in trade was, Mr Exeter said, “of major concern to the WATC”.

He said although business for some operators in the South West was patchy, others were finding occupancy rates increasing due to extended marketing into the Perth market.

“Those who are doing excellent business, the majority of business, say 85 per cent or more are those who are getting their business out of the Perth marketplace,” Mr Exeter said.

“The self-drive market, whether it’s a hire car or their own car from Perth, they’re the ones who are still doing reasonable business.”

Tourism operators have changed the focus of some of their usual marketing campaigns, targeting the Perth market rather than those in the eastern states and overseas.

Many operators have embarked on media campaigns utilising both print and radio, while others have used the WATC’s $100 Million Sale campaign to boost business.

“Those who are doing the increased marketing in the Perth marketplace are definitely reaping benefits,” Mr Exeter said.

“They are the ones who have been doing better business this year than last year.

“Those are the ones who have said: ‘okay, we’ve lost the business from the eastern states, we’ve lost the business from overseas, let’s target that Perth marketplace in the short term’.

“They are the ones who are doing good business.

“So in the short term that is how they are handling the situation.”

Perth has provided a perfect backup market for many operators, not only because of its close geographical proximity to the region but also because it is the least expensive advertising market for South West operators.

Mr Exeter said many in the industry were extremely nervous after the fall of Ansett and the September 11 attacks on the US, but the launch of the $100 Million Sale by the WATC had allayed some fears.

“It was launched at a time when forward bookings were either not good or non-existent for a lot of operators,” Mr Exeter said.

“There was a lot of nervousness within the industry and the $100 Million Sale catalogue provided a means for operators to quickly get into the intrastate market.

“There will be a range of marketing activities the commission will be undertaking over the next 12 to 18 months, including distribution of printed holiday brochures.”

The South West has often been the focus of marketing campaigns and media attention, sometimes to the dismay of operators in other regions, many of whom feel they do not receive enough support.

While Mr Exeter agreed that the region did receive a large amount of publicity, he said this was a reflection of the size of the industry.

“About one third of the entire regional tourism industry (regional areas outside of Perth) is located just in the South West region,” he said.

“As a result it is logical that the South West, as a region, will have significant marketing throughout the marketplace, simply because of the size of the industry.”

While the region is now focusing on Perth as a major market, Mr Exeter said it was imperative that there be an increase in the number of international visitors.

And, with just 5 per cent of overall numbers coming from overseas, the industry has plenty of room to expand into international markets.

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