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Mon 12 May 2008 08:28 AM

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The land of plenty

Australia is a vast country offering elegant shops and restaurants to rugged terrain and adventure.

Australia is a vast country offering something for everyone, from elegant shops, cafes and restaurants to rugged terrain, adventure and family fun. Chris Jackson outlines the main selling points of 'the land Down Under'.

When the cheesy 1980s band Men at Work was looking to describe Australia in its worldwide hit, Land Down Under, it used three words: land of plenty.

The description was spot on; Australia truly is a land of plenty; it is geographically enormous (the sixth largest country in the world); it has diverse nature and native animals; and it offers infinite opportunities for those planning a holiday, whether it be for adventure, relaxation, shopping, luxury, romance or just a chance to see the other side of the world.

The key is not to try to do too much; if there are five things you want to do or see, pick the top two and concentrate on them.

Indeed, this diversity is both a blessing and a curse for travel agents, because despite the country being well served by airlines and accommodation options, clients will often need plenty of guidance to help them put together the most appropriate itinerary.

Alpha Tours product manager John Flower, an Aussie himself, says he commonly hears from clients that they don't know where to start.

"The key is not to try to do too much; if there are five things you want to do or see, pick the top two and concentrate on them," he suggests.

"It's a big mistake that people from all regions make when coming to Australia. I know of people who had two weeks vacation and were going to travel from Perth, driving to Alice Springs then onto Cairns, and try and take in the Gold Coast up on the way - it's crazy.

"People just have no concept of the size of the place, so the key is to sit down and make sure your clients can do what they want to do. Pick a couple of centres, such as a Melbourne and Sydney or the Gold Coast and Perth and just concentrate on those two to maximise these destinations."

Flower adds: "Tourism Australia is well represented in the Gulf and so are each of Australia's states, so there are people here that agents can talk to. Seek as much advice as you can, and there is no shortage of resources available here."

Tourism Australia distribution development manager Andrew Oldfield says Australia has so much to offer that he expects people going to the country for the first time to have researched what they were looking for.

At the same time, repeat visitors should be adventurous and look for new experiences.

"If they are heading back to Australia they should try and enter through a different gateway to experience other wonderful destinations, like Perth, or Adelaide," he suggests. "Maybe they could add a ski holiday for a couple of nights in Victoria, or try their luck at fishing on the Great Barrier Reef, wonder at some of our beautiful green rain forests, enjoy some nights of culture, theatre, dance and entertainment in Sydney or Melbourne.

"If they are keen on going back to the Gold Coast they should move out of Surfers Paradise area to visit the beautiful Hinterland or check out Broadbeach for something different."

The number of Middle East visitors travelling to Australia is steadily increasing with Tourism Australia figures revealing that more than 3,850 visitors from the Gulf region travelled to Australia in January this year, an increase of 21% on the same period last year.In 2007, 43% of visitors from the Gulf region went to Australia for a holiday, with a further 21% visiting friends and family.

In total, 52,261 people visited Australia from the Gulf last year, an increase of 22% on figures from 2006.

The average expenditure of guests from the Gulf was AU $6158 (US $5720), including pre-paid international airfares and package tours.

Sydney is a highlight of the whole country, there is no doubt about it.

Visitors from the Gulf region stayed an average of 41 nights in Australia, higher than the average of 30 nights. Leisure guests from the region stayed, on average, 17 nights in the country.

This long average length of stay indicates the revenue-earning opportunities available to travel agents who take the time and effort to research the destination and sell their clients a full package.

Banana benders

Located in the north-east of Australia, Queensland has historically proven to be a big drawcard for GCC travellers lured to the glitz and the glamour of the Gold Coast.

As Sharaf Travel holidays manager Aloke Dey explains: "GCC nationals prefer to go to the Gold Coast because it really offers them a lot in terms of family entertainment and weather-wise it is a nice temperature to get away from the heat in the summer".

"In terms of accommodation, the new product styles they have there are superb, plus the entertainment for children is excellent - overall it's a fantastic place for a leisure vacation" he adds.

Alpha's Flower agrees that the Gold Coast is an important attraction for local clients, noting that he has focused on the destination in Alpha Holidays' forthcoming 2008 brochure.

"Everyone has to sell the Gold Coast because it is such an important destination," he says.

"I have actually thrown in some extra sightseeing options into the brochure this year including the three-park super pass, which is ever popular, where you get to go to three of the theme parks - Dreamworld, Warner Brothers Movie World, Wet'n'Wild and SeaWorld - plus one of those theme parks for an extra day, all in the cost of one ticket."

Both Etihad Airways and Emirates Airline fly into Queensland through Brisbane - known to locals as Brisvegas - where Emirates has recently opened its new lounge in the redesigned Brisbane Airport International Terminal.

The lounge, with 360-degree views overlooking Morton Bay, enables passengers to board their departing flight directly from the lounge.

Brisbane Airport chief executive Koen Rooijmans says the lounge is an important component of the airport's ability to deliver new standards in international travel.

"The design of the new terminal recognises the new environment that airports, airlines and passengers all face as a result of new security measures and passenger processes," he explains.

People are more likely to spend more time in airports than previously and our goal is to make that time as comfortable, relaxing and productive as possible.People want the stress taken out of travel, but they want to be secure. They want airports to be comfortable, but they want them to be efficient.

Travellers using the lounge will be able to take advantage of complementary dishes and full bar service for relaxation, or use the international business centre with wireless internet and individual workstations to catch up on work.

The lounge also features full male and female shower facilities, massage chairs and LCD televisions.

GCC nationals prefer to go to the Gold Coast because it really offers them a lot in terms of family entertainment and weather-wise it is a nice temperature to get away from the heat in the summer.

Back on the Gold Coast and agents searching for more revenue-generating opportunities can suggest alternative accommodation options that boast good commission rates.

The Dream Holiday Homes collection is the brainchild of Australian Kym Illman and comprises waterfront homes with a fourth under construction.

They are located on the prestigious Sovereign Islands - a gated island community on the Gold Coast - and each features "everything a family could want" including heated waterfront pools, "superior AV systems", kids' toys/books and beach towels as well as 500 thread-count linen and free internet, pay TV and local calls.

Each villa is two-storey and features "over-sized bedrooms", three garages and a special kids' lounge area.

"We can also arrange special services such as meet and greet, chauffeurs, drivers and chefs," says Illman.

"These homes are big and they are on the water and offer greater value for money than villas at the nearby Palazzo Versace," he explains.

His waterfront homes - named Aqua Villa, Valencia and Paradiso - are each around 550m2 and are priced between $770 and $2,300 per night.

Illman pays agents 7.5% commission on bookings up to 13 days and 15% on bookings of two weeks or more.

Bay watch

Nestled around the breathtaking Sydney Harbour and filled with postcard images such as Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and boats and ferries galore, the New South Wales state capital almost sells itself.

As Sharaf's Dey puts it: "Sydney is a highlight of the whole country, there is no doubt about it".

Although the local inhabitants will point to the Taronga Zoo, the AMP Tower, Botanical Gardens and surf beaches of Manly and Bondi as being the best attractions, these attractions may not necessarily attract Arab nationals.

Instead, recommend the city for shopping and for its restaurants - many of which overlook the picturesque attractions mentioned above.

The Westfield Bondi Junction is the pick of the shopping malls, but the highlight for fashionistas is definitely Oxford Street, which features boutique shops overflowing with Australian and international designers.The lure of Sydney has also proved to be irresistible for Middle East-based carriers, with Etihad Airways starting non-stop flights to Sydney last year.

Etihad Airways chief executive James Hogan says the route was one of the airline's most successful launches.

"It continues to be one of the strongest performing routes in our global network," he says.

Perth is a great unknown in many respects, which is crazy because it is only a 10-hour flight from here.

Following the success of the launch in March 2007, Etihad added Brisbane to its list of destinations and has more than tripled the number of services to Australia since launching the inaugural Sydney flight.

"Our Australian services continue to perform well and have enjoyed an impressive start to 2008," Hogan explains.

"On our Sydney and Brisbane routes, we achieved average seat factors of 88% and 71% respectively during the first quarter of 2008. Seat factors in business for Sydney during this period were 85%.

"Since 27 March, 2007, more than 100,000 passengers have chosen to travel with the airline between Abu Dhabi and Sydney and load factors have remained consistently above an impressive 80%. To meet the growing demand, Etihad will increase its Sydney services from daily to 11 flights per week from October 31, 2008."

The Big V

Although perhaps not as popular as the spotlight-hogging northern states, Victoria in the south-east still manages to draw a crowd from the Middle East. In fact in 2007, 30% of visitors from the region made a beeline for Victoria.

Tourism Victoria international marketing manager Ian McDougal says the attractions of Melbourne include its cosmopolitan ambience and its status as the major events capital of Australia.

Melbourne hosts the Formula 1 Grand Prix, Australian Open tennis championship, Australian Rules Football and the richest horse race in Australia, the Melbourne Cup.

"For Arab nationals, Melbourne is the most cosmopolitan and multicultural city in Australia - everyone fits right in," he says.

"It is a sensational family destination with superb family attractions both in the city and close proximity in regional areas of Victoria. Melbourne has a wealth of family product in the city for all. It includes the best shopping in Australia, nightlife and a host of family products."

The city has a large multi-cultural background, with many settlers from Lebanon in particular.

As a result there are numerous mosques and more than 300 Halal restaurants scattered across the city.According to McDougal, new attractions in Melbourne include the Antarctic penguins at Melbourne Aquarium, the winter masterpieces exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria and The Edge at the Eureka Skydeck 88.

"It's probably the biggest thing for the family market this summer," McDougal says.

"It opened in 2007 atop the highest residential building in the southern hemisphere. The Edge is a glass cube that moves around outside the building."

Sharaf's Dey agrees the city has much to offer: "Melbourne offers a great deal of diversified tourism attractions for all nationalities, not just the GCC," he says.

"In Melbourne itself, and around the city, there are lots of things to do, from cruises and adventures to entertainment, nightlife and relaxation."

"It is also quite a cost effective destination."

While keen to see more agents booking clients to Melbourne, McDougal stresses that when Australia is booked for leisure clients it should never be sold as a mono-destination (for example Melbourne only, or the Gold Coast only).

"It's a long distance to travel to Australia and every destination within the country offers different experiences, so always sell multiple destinations," he advises.

"You'll not only get greater commission as a result, but the passenger will have a much better time, and be more likely to return to you when next they travel."

McDougal also suggested visiting the destination website www.visitmelbourne.com/middleeast to pick up handy tips on the destination.

Best of the west

Another destination well serviced by Middle East airlines is Perth, located on the south-west coast.

Separated from the rest of the country by vast desert, Perth is a laidback city with a moderate climate and surrounded by natural beauty.

Alpha's Flower has packaged the destination with Melbourne as part of a tempting familiarisation package.

"Perth is a great unknown in many respects, which is crazy because it is only a 10-hour flight from here," he says.

"It is serviced well by Emirates and even by some of the Asian carriers such as Singapore Airlines - it is really very easily accessible.

"What I have done for Perth is include it as a taster, just to get people thinking about it. I have included sightseeing options like Margaret River, which is a lovely lush area; cruising on the Swan River or going over to Rottnest Island."

With Sharaf's Dey also noticing an increase in interest for the western capital city, it is only natural that airlines are taking note. Indeed Etihad's Hogan has earmarked the city, as well as Melbourne, as possible new Australian destinations for the flagship carrier "within the next 12 to 24 months".

Big summer land

With a host of destinations from which to choose, agents have a glut of options to offer clients.But be warned - do it as soon as you can.

"The early bird takes the worm when it comes to trips to Australia, because the airfare is a vital component of the whole cost of Australian trips," Sharaf's Dey says.

"The lower level fare seats are limited and sell fast, so if you can do it early you will save your client money. If you book later they will have to pay more and stretch the budget a bit more.

"Also, it does take time to get the visa and our prediction is there will be a huge rush to Australia this year. There will be a lot of rushing at the consulates, so it is important to plan early to avoid hassles and disappointments."

Oldfield recommends agents become an 'Aussie Specialist' in order to improve their product knowledge. They can find out more by sending an email to visit.australia@eim.ae.

"Find out about becoming an online e-visa agent to apply for your clients' visas online at your office," he adds.

Alpha's Flower agrees with Dey that things are looking up for Australia's tourism industry.

"It seems to be increasing in popularity," he observes.

"A couple of years ago New Zealand seemed to make an impact on the scene, and then that dipped away and Australia has gone up the rankings a little bit. It's very popular, particularly for the summer holidays."

And don't be afraid to be adventurous, Oldfield adds.

"Everyone knows what to expect on the Gold Coast," he says. "Other destinations will add so much value to not only the client's Australian experience, but also the bottom line of the travel agent's booking.

"This could include three-day car hire and self-drive tour around the south of Perth and the Margaret River area or a three-night skiing package in Mount Buller in Victoria. Alternatively, why not offer a relaxing break in the stunning Whitsunday islands? All these options will add great variety to the client's Australian itinerary, and prove that Australia really is a repeat destination."

Off the beaten trackWhat to suggest for repeat visitors to Australia: Byron Bay: Located on the east coast of Australia, between Brisbane and Sydney, Byron Bay is one of Australia's best surf areas, and a great place to unwind for a couple of days.

Daylesford: Formerly a volcanic area in central Victoria, Daylesford has transformed itself from a sleepy country town into a thriving health and wellness centre, thanks to the local natural mineral springs.

Katherine: Just south of Darwin in Australia's famed "Top End" (think Crocodile Dundee), Katherine is a great base camp for trips into the local gorge, home to many Aboriginal art paintings which are thousands of years old, and local wildlife including the feared saltwater crocodiles.

Broome: Located 'only' 2200km north of Perth, Broome is near the westernmost point of Australia, and features Cable Beach - 22.5km of white sand and clear turquoise waters. The coastal town is famed for its camels, so Middle East visitors will feel right at home!

Ayers Rock (Uluru): A giant monolith in Australia's 'Red Centre' near Alice Springs. This also provides visitors with the chance to sample some true Aboriginal culture.

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