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MICE - Incentive travel booms despite security fears

DESPITE a rising Australian dollar and the fallout from recent terrorist attacks in Bali and the US, Western Australia’s incentive travel operators are expecting strong growth.

Even the war with Iraq is not considered to be too much of a concern to the industry, providing it is a short conflict.

Indeed, some incentive tourism operators are reporting their best year ever for inbound international travellers.

While WA is considered to be on Asia’s doorstep, it is seen as far enough away from Bali and the Middle East and is therefore considered a safe destination.

The addition of flights from Emirates and South African Airlines to Perth has also given the local incentive tourism industry a boost.

However, Fringe Benefits Tax issues have reduced the opportunities for incentive travel within Australia.

Incentive tourism is travel offered to staff or customers as a bonus. In the case of staff it is a reward for meeting targets or some other company benchmark.

For customers it is offered as a lure to purchase a certain item or a quantity of goods. Frequent flier-type programs are an example of incentive travel offerings.

The driving force behind incentive travel is the opportunity for individuals to experience things and partake in activities they normally would not get a chance to.  In 2000-01 the incentive travel industry was worth $21.4 million to WA.

DMS Incentive Management director Brian Robeson said the market, from his company’s perspective, was growing.

“We’re finding it to be quite buoyant. When there was trouble with September 11 and Bali, Perth was seen as a safe destination. We were very busy in January, which is normally a quiet time for us,” he said.

“We’ve found that groups going to Asia are diverting to WA, even if it means giving up a deposit.

“Some of the companies that we’re ultimately dealing with have their head offices in the US or Japan. They will make a decision that there will be no travel to a region because of safety concerns.”

Travel Management Group director John Bradbury said interest was growing in Perth and WA’s regions as an incentive travel destination, especially from the State’s key tourism markets of Asia and the UK.

There has also been a lot of interest shown from the eastern States.

His company operates around Perth and Margaret River, however he said incentive destinations in the Kimberley, in particular El Questro, had been reporting strong interest.

“WA is seen as a safe haven,” Mr Bradbury said.

“I think we’re set for a very good future in the incentive travel industry.”

He said the incentive travel industry would need back-up infrastructure, such as convention centres, built to further its growth – something that already is happening.

Construction is under way on the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre and the Bunkers Bay facility in the South West is nearing completion.

“Where we are [Margaret River] is hot property because a lot of people on the east coast have heard about it but have never been able to come,” Mr Bradbury told WA Business News.

“The local wine industry has had a lot to do with that because a lot of east coast restaurants are now stocking Margaret River wines and the image of refinement that a lot of these wine companies are promoting suits our industry.”

However, not all incentive travel companies are as bullish about their industry’s short-term future.

Debretts Incentive and Destination Management managing director Denise Monk said the high Australian dollar and more expensive airfares resulting from rising fuel prices, coupled with fear of the fallout from war in the Middle East, was causing some travellers to stay away.

However, she said times of uncertainty were often good ones for companies to be offering incentives.

“Incentive wise, certain industries are going better than they were,” Ms Monk said.

“The IT industry is doing a lot better. The retail areas have cut back on their incentive travel dramatically. The car industry has stayed fairly positive.”

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