Young Australians are ditching their rite-of-passage plans for big overseas trips and spending their savings discovering their own backyard.
The youth travel giant Contiki has launched a series of sell-out trips around Australia for the young domestic market and they’ve found millennials and Gen Z-ers are desperate to travel – and eager to do it here.
“I had a trip booked to Europe this year but with COVID, I decided to look around my own country instead,” said Jess Sowerby, 21, a Sydney Flight Centre employee currently on Magnetic Island on one of those North Queensland trips. “And I’m loving it; it’s been the best experience.
“It’ll actually make me think twice before I book my next overseas trip. I’m so surprised by how great Australia is, and it’s been fun travelling with other Australians.”
A survey of over 1200 young people conducted by Contiki discovered that 63 per cent of millennials and Gen Z-ers were determined to travel this year, and 77 per cent had already booked to travel domestically.
“With this sector, in excess of 90 per cent of the customer base comes from overseas and, in some cases, 100 per cent,” said BYTAP spokesman Brendan McKenna. “With the closure of international borders being extended through to June, it’s going to be quite difficult for a lot of businesses to pivot to the domestic market, and then to survive.
“State border closures and restrictions on numbers allowed in, say, hostels, have compounded the situation. JobKeeper managed to keep the lights on for some, but with that finishing, the situation’s going to be devastating.”
With so many operations now facing imminent closure, he believes that the future looks even grimmer, with Australia likely to have far fewer attractions on offer, along with fewer beds, and fewer experienced guides on the ground for young travellers.
Only 51 per cent of business reported being able to shift to domestic markets, with half of those who couldn’t, saying they couldn’t adapt their business models, with hostels or 4WD tours that Australians can choose to do themselves.
At the same time, 89 per cent of operators said they relied on JobKeeper, 40 per cent said they wouldn’t be employing any staff when it finishes, and 66 per cent expect losses to continue into 2022, with 22 per cent predicting they’ll be 76-100 per cent down.
“We know the youth market is one of the most resilient groups and one of the highest yielding sectors as they stay so long, and travel further across the country,” said Mr McKenna.
“But we’re opening up later than other countries and run the risk of losing out. We need the government to give us targeted JobKeeper like they did the airlines, to keep us going, and a clear roadmap for when we finally open up.”
In the meantime, however, Contiki, the company that’s also evolved over the last 20 years from booze-filled party bus tours through Europe to offering a much wider range of tours for those who want to actually explore, and remember where they are, is managing to successfully corral 18 to 35-year-old Australians to travel in their own country instead.
It launched 14 trips “for locals by locals”, ranging from four to 11 days around North Queensland, Kakadu, Uluru, Western Australia’s Rottnest Island, Margaret River, the Great Ocean Road, South Australia and skiing at Perisher.
They’ve proved so popular, a number have been immediately duplicated to cater for more customers. “We’d normally take Brits, Canadians, Americans and people from Asia on our trips in Australia, but now we’re dealing with Aussies who can’t do their own dream trips overseas,” said Katrina Barry, Contiki managing director.
“We’re creating different trips for them as they want more adventure, immersive experiences, being outdoors and social interaction, and we’ve been overwhelmed by demand. We’re continuing to add more departures and more trips all the time. We’ve tapped into a whole new market.”
Melburnian Paige Cullin, 21, is part of that enthusiastic new customer base. She’d been forced to abandon her plans for a second trip to Europe in January, so instead elected to take a Contiki tour from Airlie Beach to Cairns in February.
“It was amazing,” said registered nurse Ms Cullin. “Actually, it was the best experience I’ve ever had. So in some ways, it was a bit of a blessing I went there as otherwise I might never have known how beautiful it was.
“You see pictures of places like the Maldives and it looks wonderful, but we have that right here, and only a three-hour flight away. Here, it’s so much more affordable too. Obviously, there’s still a lot of the world I want to see, but I’m thinking now of seeing much more of Australia as well.”