Australia – with its clutch of world-class cities, scorched outback, breathtaking beaches and laidback living – looms large in the imagination of travellers the world over. One third of the entire country is given over to Western Australia, a state of sparsely populated wilderness until you reach the cosmopolitan city of Perth. In recent weeks, Australia has made the headlines with its effective containment of coronavirus – we spoke with Brodie Carr, the Managing Director of Tourism Western Australia, to learn more about how the region has coped, and what plans are in place for moving forwards.
Q: What does lockdown currently look like in Western Australia? How has the state coped with the coronavirus?
A: The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges and tourism is one of the industries most severely impacted. Western Australia has fared better than many other states, with our hard state-border closure, intrastate travel restrictions and WA’s isolation all working to our advantage to manage the spread of COVID-19. The WA Government has started to ease some restrictions across the state. All regional boundaries within Western Australia have now been lifted, with the exception of access to remote Aboriginal communities. In addition, there have been further changes including an increase in the amount of people allowed to gather and the reopening of many businesses and attractions.
With the easing of restrictions, we are now encouraging West Australians to “Wander out Yonder” as part of our intrastate tourism campaign. While we can’t welcome international visitors at the moment we are encouraging locals to explore their own backyard and reacquaint themselves with some of the experiences, which attract visitors from around the world. This includes swimming with the world’s biggest fish, the whale shark, on World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Reef; exploring one of the world’s last great wildernesses areas, the Kimberley region; or visiting Rottnest Island, home to 63 pristine beaches and the world’s happiest animal – the quokka.
Q: Can you share any positive news stories that have come out of the region and the rest of Australia during the crisis?
A: We have seen incredible innovation from the Western Australian tourism industry during this challenging time. For example, Busselton Jetty – the longest timber-piled jetty in the Southern Hemisphere – started offering virtual underwater observatory tours. Wise Winery in the State’s South West region changed production to include much-needed hand sanitiser, and Whale Watch Western Australia launched virtual tours.
Q: In what ways has Western Australia been keeping in touch with visitors virtually?
A: We have remained active on our social-media channels and our tourism website to encourage people to keep Western Australia at the top of their travel wish lists. Our “Adventure Awaits” social-media campaign showcases the incredible adventures, epic road trips and amazing tour operators who are ready to welcome visitors for a holiday when the time is right.
We also launched the Virtual WA hub on westernaustralia.com, which brings together immersive and interactive content, and showcases WA’s incredible experiences. For example, you can watch a weekly Live Sky Astronomy session with Rick Tonello from the Gravity Discovery Centre and Observatory; enjoy a live bush walk in Broome with cultural tour guide Johani Mamid from Mabu Buru Tours; or view weekly performances via IsoFringe – the online platform for Perth’s Fringe World arts festival.
In addition, Tourism WA’s UK office launched a virtual Coral Coast familiarization trip for travel agents through Spinning Globe’s VFam platform. Agents can “experience” trekking through the gorges of Kalbarri National Park or snorkelling at Ningaloo Reef, all from their desk, while learning more about the region.
Q: Some of Australia’s other states are tentatively relaxing restrictions. What do plans look like for opening up across Australia, and in particular in Western Australia?
A: At this point in Australia, all borders except for Victoria, New South Wales and the ACT, are closed. Western Australia’s borders remain closed to non-residents.
Q: When do you envisage attractions and areas opening up again to visitors?
A: The Western Australia borders remain closed to non-residents. However, the small number of COVID-19 cases in Western Australia has enabled the WA Government to ease restrictions locally. In addition to the opening of regional borders, the State Government has allowed the reopening of places such as restaurants, bars, cafés, galleries, museums, theatres, cinemas, concert venues and wildlife parks. Limitations on the number of patrons do apply.
Q: What new measures and safety regulations could we see introduced when travellers are welcomed back?
A: The Western Australian Government has launched a COVID-19 hygiene training programme for the hospitality industry as well as COVID Safety Guidelines for businesses to comply with in order to protect the community against the spread of COVID-19.
Q: What are your predictions for the tourist industry in your region for the rest of the year and into 2021?
A: Prior to COVID-19, visitors to and within Western Australia reached record levels in 2019, and we are hopeful once borders are open, WA will again be a popular holiday destination. Our focus at the moment is to do everything we can to support the industry, and we look forward to welcoming interstate and international visitors once it’s appropriate and safe to do so.
Q: Australia and New Zealand have formally agreed to a “travel bubble” once it is safe to travel. Is there any indication of when this might be?
A: While this proposal has been mooted by the Federal Government, no formal plans have been agreed. It is expected domestic travel within Australia would restart before international travel.
Q: What lessons do you think we can learn from COVID-19, and take forwards with us for a brighter future?
A: I think many of us will have an even greater appreciation for the incredible experiences travel offers when borders reopen. While lockdown has created so many challenges, it has also given us time to pause and reflect on what matters the most to us – shared experiences with friends and family, the pleasure of wide open spaces and the restorative effect of nature. I hope we will continue to prioritize those elements both at home and in our travels.