Aviation is a major contributor to Australia’s tourism industry. As an island continent with no land borders, Australia relies almost exclusively on air services to bring international visitors to the country, with over 99 per cent of inbound tourists arriving in Australia by air. Domestic tourism also relies heavily on air transport thanks to the country’s vastness and isolation. New Zealand also finds itself in a similar situation. AVIATOR takes a peek at the importance aviation plays on the “local” tourism industry.
TOURISM AUSTRALIA’S ROLE IN AVIATION
Tourism Australia plays a targeted strategic role in the aviation arena, using partnerships to help build demand and grow competitive and sustainable aviation capacity. It works with airlines, airports and State Tourism Organisations (STOs) to identify aviation gaps and opportunities. Market and customer knowledge is used to add value to the work already being done by the STOs, regions and airports.
GENERAL AVIATION LANDSCAPE
During 2012-15, Australian aviation is expected to remain a positive factor for Australian tourism, and will potentially outperform global growth, with forecasts of stronger loads and yields on Australian routes. This will partly be supported by Australia’s strong outbound market – healthy loads both in and out of Australia increases Australia’s attractiveness to carriers when they are developing new routes.
In 2012, international aviation capacity increased by two per cent, following strong growth during 2010 and 2011. Australia is well positioned to take advantage of this recent aviation growth. Carriers from Asia (particularly China, Singapore and Malaysia), the Middle East and Latin America continue to drive global aviation growth, while European and American carriers tightly manage capacity. The Middle East and North Asia will become a more important hub particularly for European and American tourists visiting Australia. Similarly, Southeast Asia (Singapore and Malaysia) will remain a key hub for Asian tourists visiting Australia. Inbound growth will also be boosted by the continued expansion of low cost carriers.
Longer range aircraft like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A380 are expected to open up new destinations, routes and market segments over 2012-15, maintaining a sustainable and highly competitive aviation sector. Airlines are expected to accelerate the retirement of older aircraft, particularly if fuel prices remain high. Increased focus on liberalisation of bilateral agreements, improved network connectivity, global alliances, ancillary revenues and cross border joint ventures are also anticipated during 2012-15. Environmental issues and associated government taxes will also impact airlines during the period and distribution will continue to evolve (particularly global distribution systems, process and digital/mobile communication).
Australian domestic capacity continues to show strong growth, up seven per cent during 2012, with very strong growth in the December quarter of 2012. Growth was boosted by Tiger Airways’ re-entry into the Australian market and additional capacity from Qantas and Virgin Australia. Contributing to this growth is the high yielding traffic such as mining (e.g. Newman-Perth, Brisbane-Gladstone, and Perth-Port Headland). As a result, Australian domestic fares and average loads continue to fall.
Apart from the major carriers, General Aviation also benefits from growth in the domestic sector, with light aircraft providing tourists accessibility to areas once limited by isolation. Such areas include the Kimberley Coast in northern Western Australia, a region regarded as one of the world’s final frontiers.
CYGNET BAY PEARL FARM
The year was 1946. The Kimberley was unchartered territory. There were few roads and many dangers but this didn’t stop one man’s drive to follow his dream. The man was Dean Brown. Armed with a rifle, he skippered a rickety wooden lugger (a type of boat) through treacherous, crocodile-infested waters into an unknown frontier to discover a hidden paradise. Cygnet Bay has been home to the Brown family for over 60 years. Originally established to collect mother-of-pearl, this small Australian family-run operation progressed to become the first Australian company cultivating cultured pearls. It has continued across three generations to forge a niche in the global pearl market.
The dream that started in 1946 is still alive today. In the 1940’s and 50’s, Dean’s business was concerned with the collection of mother-of-pearl shell. This all changed in the late 50’s when Dean’s sons revolutionised the industry. Lyndon strove to perfect the art of pearl cultivation and eventually unlocked the secret of seeding a pearl shell, a technique previously known only by the Japanese. Lyndon’s brother, Bruce, and his wife Alison soon joined the venture, introducing the first non-hard hat diver to the industry in the 1960’s.
Today, the pearl farm is home to three generations of the Brown family. Bruce and Alison’s son, James, who studied marine biology at James Cook University, Queensland, is now the Farm Manager. As a youngster growing up on the farm, James remembers there was no road access and everything had to come in by lugger.
“The community had to be self-sufficient back then,” James tells AVIATOR. “There was no road access and we lived side-by-side with the local aboriginal communities. We had a school on the farm that had between 10 and 16 kids – me and my siblings and all the kids of the local tribespeople.
“During the wet season, which runs for four months every year, we were completely isolated and there was no way in or out. Even travelling by boat was pretty risky with the squalls and cyclones and the rest of it. Then my father got his pilot’s licence and worked his way through the old Cessna 172s, 182s and up to the 337 (Skymaster). I had a little 172 for a while as well.”
Today, Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm has its own dirt airstrip, which is used daily by various general aviation companies. On the day AVIATOR spoke to James Brown, a Cessna Caravan floatplane had just landed on the strip, its 12 passengers eager to wolf down a hearty breakfast, followed by a tour of the farm. They would then re-board the Cessna and fly to the beautiful Horizontal Waterfalls some 55km away.
Described by Sir David Attenborough as ‘one of the greatest natural wonders of the world’, the Horizontal Waterfalls in Talbot Bay are the only waterfalls where water cascades horizontally. Caused by intense tidal currents moving huge volumes of water through confined gaps where the mainland King Leopold Ranges meet the sea, the Horizontal Waterfalls are 50 nautical miles by air or 70 nautical miles by boat from Cygnet Bay.
“During the peak season between April and October, we can have up to 10 aircraft here per day,” James says. “This part of the world provides a winter destination for the bulk of Australian tourists to escape the cold and to come to our lovely weather. We run all year round because of the pearling operation and what we find is that during the wet season, most of the other tourist attractions in the remote areas of the Kimberley region shut down because of (lack of) access. We still offer our facilities all year round and we still run the tours for the few people who come up here.
The Kimberley is considered one of Earth’s greatest natural and cultural treasures. The region is rated alongside the Arctic and Antarctic as one of the planet’s last great marine wildernesses. It represents a vast, magnificent and relatively unexplored marine realm that has escaped human exploitation for the last 2.5 million years.
With exceptionally high species richness and ecological integrity, the Kimberley represents one of the most intact large tropical marine ecosystems on the planet. It is of huge biodiversity value in both an Australian and International context.
Only 3.7 per cent of the world’s oceans are rated within the lowest category of adversely impacted by humans. These include the polar Arctic and Antarctic regions and north-west Australia’s coastline, including the Kimberley.
“The Kimberley is one of the least populated areas on the globe,” James says. “I think there’s something like one person per 35 square kilometres. Many of those people are in the towns and there’s almost no access to the Kimberley Coast, apart from the Dampier Peninsula, where we are, there’s only one other road.
“Road access on the Kimberley Coast is almost impossible. It’s about 800 kilometres from one end to the other if you fly between Broome and Wyndham. But if you track around the coast, it’s over 14,500 kilometres of coastline, one that is very complex. There are over 2,600 islands on the west Kimberley Coast, which is more than 30 per cent of all islands on Australian waters. This is really Australia’s isle coast but nobody knows about it and nobody gets to see it unless they’re on a very expensive cruise boat or they fly over it. So what happens is there’s a constant stream of scenic flights departing from Broome and Derby every day,” showing just how important aviation is to the region.
The Kimberley also has some of the largest tides in the world with spring tidal ranges of up to 12 metres in areas. In terms of the Kimberley coral reefs, this is the largest tidal range experienced by any coral reef systems on the planet.
“We recently started operating a tour called the Giant Tides because of the natural spectacular that is known as the world’s largest tropical tides,” James explains. “Every twelve hours a ten to twelve metre tidal wave floods the area in spectacular style and we take people on high powered boats to see it.”
Despite being Australia’s oldest pearl farm and boasting a sterling international reputation, few Australians have ever heard of the Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm. In an ironic twist, from the 1970s, when James’s parents Bruce and Alison closed down their cultured pearl shop in Broome due to a lack of tourist activity, for the next 30 years or so, all the family’s pearls were wholesaled internationally.
“Every pearl we produced was gobbled up by the international markets and I found it quite ironic that while a lot of the big fashion houses and jewellery houses around the world knew about Cygnet Bay and this incredible product we were producing, no-one in Australia had heard of us,” James says. “We had a reputation for not only growing beautiful pearls but also some of the biggest pearls in the world. In 2004 after basically fifty years of research and development, we harvested what is now recognised as the world’s largest fine quality round pearl. It’s 22.24 millimetres in size, perfectly round and is arguably the most valuable pearl in the world. It’s priceless and we now exhibit it at our showroom in Broome.”
So why was the farm opened to tourism?
“Tourism in the area has grown very organically in the past couple of decades,” James says. “It was embraced by the local Bardi-Jaawi tribespeople of the Dampier Peninsula and it’s obviously a good way for them to earn a living in their own area. In my lifetime there has been nobody around except the tribespeople and us. You could drive to Broome and if you broke down there wouldn’t be another car for days if not weeks. But by the early 2000s there was up to 150 vehicles a day driving up the Dampier Peninsula. It just became a massive drawcard, people started realising the only way to experience the Kimberley Coast was to travel up the Dampier Peninsula because you can’t get to it any other way.”
And apart from experiencing the incredible natural beauty of the Kimberley Coast, tourists also have the opportunity to experience some amazing cultural interaction with the Bardi-Jaawi aborigines, who have opened up their lives and their ancient culture to visitors.
“Tourism in the area grew very strong and post-GFC I really needed to look at any way possible of helping out with what was a serious cash flow crisis that I think everybody experienced. Opening our gates to tourists and at the same time developing a domestic retail brand for the first time since the early seventies, were obvious ways for us to diversify our business.”
Since opening the farm to the public, business has grown strongly but due to the appreciation of the Australian dollar, tourism has followed the national trend of diminishing, with less international tourists visiting the area; while Australian travellers have chosen to fly overseas to make the most of the strong dollar.
“There’s still a very healthy tourist industry in the Kimberley and those things will eventually come back to being very, very strong because there are just so many reasons why people choose to travel up here,” James says. “We’re probably getting between 10,000 visitors a year to the farm, alone; many of whom are just day visitors.”
The farm also has its own accommodation: three self-contained cottages and eight safari tents, limiting numbers to an exclusive few.
James Brown says he’s pretty happy with the way the farm is going as he continues to develop the tourist side of the business. “We recently won a federal grant to assist in developing our tourism facilities,” he says. “We’re going to start building a nice elevated air-conditioned dining area overlooking the bay; and a nice pool.”
James also established a research facility enabling scientists to study the region’s extraoridnary tropical marine environment. “I grew up spearing and swimming and fishing with all the local Bardi-Jaawi people who passed on a lot of their cultural knowledge to me and then I went to university and formally studied marine biology. That was when I realised it was my life’s passion and when I came back to WA it was frustrating to see not only how little was known about this extraoridinary tropical marine environment up here, but how little work was being done because there was no access to scientists. So I started up the research station in 2009 because the tourism structure gave me the last couple of pieces I needed to host research teams, that’s accommodation and catering. It’s the only independent marine research station in the counrty but it’s proving to be very successful and we’re working with just about every institute in WA: Murdoch and Curtin; and also the fisheries department, Department of Environment and Conservation, and the CSIRO.”
Given the isolation and the growing popularity of the Kimberley Coast as a tourist destination, including the Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm, there’s no doubt that aviation will continue to play a vital role in transporting the thousands who flock to the region year after year.
Like Australia, aviation is a major contributor to New Zealand’s tourism industry. As an island nation surrounded by water, New Zealand relies almost exclusively on air services to bring international visitors to the country. And, again, like its neighbour across the ditch, aviation provides opportunities for tourists to travel to the most isolated parts of the country.
Auckland International Airport (AIA), New Zealand’s main gateway, recently issued a challenge for the country’s tourism industry to increase visitor arrivals by nearly 60 per cent to four million by 2020 and increase the value of individual visitors. Together this could deliver NZ$9.7 billion (AUS$8.39 billion) in direct value to the tourism industry.
One year on from launching its Ambition 2020 initiative, arrivals are slightly behind the original 2012 target, but Asian markets and in particular China, have out-performed, while traditional markets, including Britain, Australia and the United States, have under-performed as airlines reduce or redirect capacity from markets struggling with slower economic growth.
The composition of New Zealand’s visitors has changed significantly over the past decade, driven by economic changes, the rising New Zealand dollar, aviation capacity and pricing, competition from other destinations and changes in travel preferences.
By 2020 New Zealand’s top five markets by number and visitor spend will be headed by Australia, China, the United States, Britain and Japan (which is typically accounted separately by tourism bodies). But the top markets by real visitor growth over the decade will be slightly different – Australia, China, the United States, South America and India.
Australia remains by far New Zealand’s biggest inbound market, growing to account for 45 per cent or 1.15 million of total arrivals, up from 31 per cent in 2002. Australia is expected to remain New Zealand’s largest source of inbound visitors and tourism revenue with their number expected to increase by about 500,000 by 2020 to nearly 1.6 million. However, while more Australians make the three hour trip across the Tasman, their stays may become shorter as New Zealand increasingly becomes regarded as an extension of a domestic weekend escape.
Currently New Zealand is the destination for 13 per cent of the 8.2 million Australian outbound trips per year. Increasing that demand will also require improved air connections to regional Australian markets and price competitive offerings against competing Asian markets.
WARBIRDS OVER WANAKA
Given New Zealand’s popularity as a tourist destination for Australian travellers, it comes as no surprise that the majority of visitors to the spectacular Warbirds Over Wanaka airshow are from across the ditch. The airshow, which is on again next year, is a biennial event in Wanaka, on New Zealand’s picturesque southern South Island. Initially conceived by New Zealand live deer recovery pioneer, Sir Tim Wallis, as a display day for him to play with his collection of World War II aircraft, the show has grown into a major institution and has been held on the Easter weekend of every even-numbered year since 1986.
Companies such as Grand Pacific Tours are an intrinsic part of Warbirds Over Wanaka, providing an opportunity for aviation connoisseurs to not only get their fix of a special range of aircraft in a spectacular setting, but to also sample the delights of New Zealand’s South Island.
Grand Pacific Tours has been conducting tours to the event since 2004 and according to Melbourne-based marketing executive, Catherine Brittenden, numbers have been steady. “Over the years, the numbers have stayed pretty much the same, around the 50,000 mark,” Catherine tells AVIATOR. “Our coaches have 48 seats, on average we get a minimum of two coaches away but sometimes it is as high as five.”
Given Warbirds’ success over the years, it comes as no surprise that Warbirds Over Wanaka is one of the company’s most popular tours. “We always receive great numbers for Warbirds Over Wanaka,” Catherine says. “The airshow is iconic and renowned on the world aviation stage providing excitement, entertainment and history. Wanaka itself is a spectacular venue for the airshow to take place as it is nestled on the shore of a beautiful lake surrounded by the Southern Alps. The show includes the most famous Warbirds joining forces with classic aircraft. The show also includes wine and food stalls from the best of the Otago region meaning there is something for everyone. They also provide new and exciting elements every year appealing to new audiences and remaining fresh.”
Grand Pacific Tours is offering two tour options to take visitors to the 2014 event – a 13 Day South Island Getaway or an 8 Day South Island Escape. Each tour includes a 3 Day Gold Pass which includes the best seats at the airshow in a grandstand situated directly in front of the runway, exclusive marquee access with CCTV, a souvenir Gold Cap and Badge, airshow program, an opportunity to walk the flight line and entry to the Warbirds & Wheels Museum.
As well as the three days of airshow action, both tours showcase some of New Zealand’s most popular attractions. Take a ride on the world famous TranzAlpine Rail Journey, one of the world’s great scenic train trips. Visit Plains Vintage Railway, which features three operational steam locomotives and the New Zealand Rail Speed Record holding Vulcan Railcar. See a K88 locomotive at work and view some informative displays.
For those wanting to take more time exploring New Zealand, the longer South Island Getaway takes you to even more popular attractions. Visit Larnach Castle, New Zealand’s only castle, where you will see beautifully manicured gardens and gain insight into Victorian living. Take a cruise on the breathtaking Milford Sound, described by Rudyard Kipling as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’.
It’s no secret that aviation and tourism work in tandem on both sides of the Tasman Sea, a comfortable liaison like a hand in a silk glove.