CQUni Commentary - Episode 3

Welcome to episode three of CQUniversity Commentary, a podcast and video series from CQUniversity Australia.

CQUni Commentary - Episode 3 - Dr Elena Konovalov


MARY: Hi there and you're listening to CQUniversity Commentary, thanks for joining us for another week and this week we're joined by Dr Elena Konovalov. She's a lecturer in management and marketing at CQUniversity with a research focused on tourism and wellbeing, and she's based in sunny Townsville. Most recently she's been looking at North Queensland tourism operators how they're going to use social media in their marketing. Thanks for joining CQUniversity Commentary!

ELENA: Thank you so much for inviting me Mary.

MARY: No worries and look I think we can probably tell, like most people you're in your home right now because everyone's in their home right now! Apart from those very essential jobs still out there, if you can work from home people are working from home and that is the advice for stopping the spread of coronavirus. In fact since April 1st Queensland has even closed its borders to the rest of Australia as well as the world. So I guess the first question is where does that leave Queensland's $25 billion dollar tourism industry?

ELENA: In a very tough spot I can tell you. Tourism is actually the economic sector that has been hit the hardest by the current situation with the COVID-19 it is affected in a traumatic and never previously seen way and it does require all the businesses that are linked to tourism to put some plans in place to try to stay afloat and write out this crisis so it's a very tough situation. Let's not put it in your rosy terms and people are definitely stressed and depressed and there is a lot of negative emotions attached to it but there are ways that the government is helping as well as the tourism organisations putting helpful resources for the businesses to deal with the situation and Queensland in a way is definitely not alone it's a situation that is affecting tourism worldwide and any lessons that we can learn from any other tourism businesses or tourism organisations are really useful at this point in time well it's so tough now as you say pretty much a global shut down I guess you can take people have to take hope in looking forward and thinking about well once borders do reopen once we get back to a version of normal but you'd have to think even then there'll be less people traveling that previously possibly so operators maybe we'll have to look to a fairly local market for a lot more of their their tourism users is it up to Queenslanders to save that Queensland tourism market? will definitely be international travel will be the last one to come back to some state of normal so absolutely as the restrictions will hopefully be getting lifted at some point in time going into future the first people that will start travel it will be all localised so all the local people that live in the area that's where the tourism businesses need to look at as potential customers to start with building their businesses back up so even probably not within the state to start with I'm thinking even like North Queensland will be somewhat separate than say Bundaberg areas somewhat separate and then going back to Brisbane and there will be separate so once that normality or kind of returns then we will look at statewide role and then you know travelling across Australia but international travel is definitely something that will be the last one to come back and even if it does come back and when it will come back hopefully we will look at possible changes to the way we travel probably there will be much stricter visa with laws that allow people to apply for visa and travel internationally as well as people saying most likely will be some kind of medical check-ups that will be incorporated in those visa processes so it's definitely something that will be woven as we speak and we've never been in a situation like this so we can't really draw on the past experiences. But going into this coronavirus situation the world was very mobile traveling to a different country was something pretty much our normal routine it wasn't something out of the ordinary it was quite easy with all the international travel that we had the channels that we had including planes very good air connections as well as a streamlined visa processes it wasn't very hard to actually get a permission to go to channel to another country that is most likely will change depending on the situation and countries will be opening one by one so it also that one that will hit the most with the virus there will be probably closed for longest and there's those that are actually relatively okay and came out of it affected but I guess not in a dramatic way they're the ones that probably will be opening their borders a little bit sooner but again only two selected countries so this is something that is most likely to happen but in say a couple of months or three four months from now we're looking at definitely domestic travel well hopefully Australia is going to be in that second category and we are riding this as well as we possibly can.

MARY: Let's talk about that domestic travel potential, that I'm sure a lot of tourism operators are really clinging to as their first hope. What's best-case scenario - is it just everyone as soon as we're allowed out, booking a holiday in their local area and how we can make and how can operators encourage them to do that?

ELENA: Well I think everybody who is staying at home have cabin fever. But at the same time this is something that absolutely has to happen for us to actually be able to travel sooner once all this infection stopped so the locals will be very keen to get out and about and at the same time the I guess the distance to which we allow to travel will be quite limited so for tourism operators they have to review their products innovate and change to adjust to this change in demand so if you will mostly oriented international visitors that are coming and you would provide some kind of general information about the area you will have to look at changing that and actually providing something new and interesting there probably even locals that live in the area do not know about and I'm as you said based in North Queensland and I am actually myself explore the region quite a bit and there is so many small hidden waterfall destinations that local people don't know about so I think as a tourism operator if you establish new itineraries, if you establish new educational tours or new entertainment for the locals it will be taken up in arms and everyone will be so happy to do something outside and we are coming actually in good weather here in tropical North Queensland it's our summer it's a beautiful weather for us so plenty of opportunities to do some fun things and I'm sure locals will be very keen to take to take off those bucket list things that you know we're sitting there and everyone was waiting for opportunity to come or something you know maybe good timing. I think once everyone been inside for that long everyone will be very keen to actually kick out some major bucket list goals.

MARY: At this point people will be wanting the entertainment as well as the destination do you think that's key to recovery that operators are offering not just come to beautiful places but connection with people, which is probably a lot of what most of us have been missing, whether that's events or music or all sorts of things. Do you think there's a lot of scope for operators to get innovative in with what they offer to bring people together?

ELENA: Absolutely I think that can be one of the strategies the operators need to now score the local businesses and local providers in related areas and try to put their heads together and come up with the interesting innovative travel products and services so events definitely an area that they can explore but again that's something that potentially could be still limited by the regulations of social gatherings after even after the restrictions are lifted so you have to be planning in that space but cautiously somewhat I guess big festivals and things like this probably not something that we will see soon. But at the same time it can be local groups of interest getting together guided by the local tourism operators on a particular I think journey and sharing something together so it could be small individual tours for families that are finally getting together like a large extended families are finally getting together after these restrictions have been lifted so it's are providing those opportunities to reconnect with your loved ones and your family and friends, I think that will be the key.

MARY: Absolutely I'm sure tourism operators would like to just fast forward through the next few months and get to a point where they can start doing something. But what could they be doing now to lay the groundwork to survive the crisis and what are you aware of that they're already doing now?

ELENA: Here tourism operators, they actually have not been taking this laying down they are innovative and quite resilient so they implementing good strategies in place they're communicating with their customers they keeping them informed about what's happening and actually been honest and transparent you know this is what's happening we're closing now but we will reopen as soon as we can. So the key I guess strategies that tourism operators can think about now. First of all their communication that is going out to the customer stakeholders making sure that they inform everyone about what's happening what's their plans are what they're thinking about sharing the content that they had from past experiences from past trips keeping those dream our lives so basically when people start thinking about what are we going to do it's a good opportunity right now to jump into the space and provide people with ideas provide numbers and inspirations and dreams and all for your products and services so communication is crucial and you need to stay on top of that also if you have any online listings such as Australian Tourism Data Warehouse or Google My Business or TripAdvisor. Now it's a really really good time to go and update those update you operating hours, put them there if you currently closed put in there currently closed until further notice so when people actually search for information they find the updated information rather than dated irrelevant information so that's another good strategy also innovating and learning for the future changing looking at the things that you were doing before this happened evaluating it in the current line and also thinking what you can do differently going forward. What skills that you can capitalise on that you probably haven't utilised on, what are the aspects of your business that you're dreaming of changing but never had time to do? So now it's actually forced time when you can sit down and spend this time looking at your financials looking at the preparations of your business looking at your logistics looking at your supply chain and thinking about where can you improve what unnecessary expenses can you lose what can be better managed what can be what an innovative ideas out there that you can explore which he never had explored before and from our research that we've conducted just before this all happened we spoke with a small tourism authorities and they actually quite busy with day-to-day running and then don't have time to spend to put much thinking into their digital presence and now is actually the time to educate yourself about social media market about digital marketing to see what your business looks like online and what information should be present there.

MARY: It's a really good point and I think we've already seen some of that you know crisis people leaning into social media hard to believe but the bush fires that were only earlier this year it feels like a millennia ago but we saw her after the bush fires the hashtags like #buyfromthebush and #takeanemptyesky which was people encouraging each other to go to stricken and affected areas and take some of their spending money, take their business and support those local businesses that have been so hard hit now obviously that was very localised after the bush fires and coronavirus really meant it didn't take off as much as it could have but do you think something like that applies to this that can be social media user driven and could apply more broadly because I guess as far as tourism goes everyone's in the same boat?

ELENA: Mmm absolutely look I think it's happening quite a lot of processed rally already in terms of we have the city council partnering with the support local organization and they actually actively promoting local businesses currently that are doing delivery and packages and baskets of local goods for the people so they actually trying to get that information across and make sure that the local businesses are still getting that additional I guess marketing supports through their channels as well so it's happening I think across Australia there is definitely opportunities there for the locals to band together and support each other and make sure that we you know shopping in our regular takeaways or if you used to have you know cup of coffee once a week in a particular place because still day and order it as a takeaway so there are definitely strategies to drive that local engagement and local support and a social media is a really really good channel and I guess the more authentic it is the more likely it is to take off and for people to join in but at the same time it has to be unique and different something that is authentic to your area like you know something unique that no other areas have and because coronavirus as you said is quite a worldwide phenomenon and everyone is dealing with it so just support local is probably you know if you if you if you put a certain spin on it that most likely to be a little bit more successful a little bit more effective but yeah definitely make sure that it's consistent you top up your posts you engage with your followers you talk to them you find out what what they're thinking how they doing in this crisis and just making sure that your pages are interactive not just one-way communications. That's what social media is all about like if you just are putting the information out it's not as I guess it's not working as well on social media so if you're engaging in good conversations if you have those conversations status in your posts then you get good engagement and you get to know your customers and then you can actually run different polls about what they'd like to see in your company you know offer them a couple of choices and see which product on they liked the most and then you know put a special on that particular offering and something like that so get them involved in your product development and get the feedback from them about where they see your company moving forward it's great to get that those ideas from social media and it sounds like a really good call to action to people who are planning that holiday. I suppose once this is all over perhaps now is the good time for them to be liking all those Instagram accounts with places they want to go or messaging the Facebook page and saying I'm coming you know and engaging for those updates because I'd imagine tourism operators would probably find that a bit encouraging as well.

ELENA: Absolutely if you were thinking about visiting say Fraser Island or some other destinations make sure you like that page make sure you comment and like their posts because absolutely that gives the companies and businesses that apply operating in those locations reassurance that there is still loyal customer base that's just waiting for them to be back in business and they just need to hang on the next it will get easier at some stage we can't stay in lockdown forever so in a way yes definitely it's probably longer than we initially thought but initially we should see some lifting of restrictions because as we see currently the curve that we were trying to flattened is actually finally flattened and the number of new infections is slowing down so if we see that kind of stopping or slowing down dramatically in certain states these are the states that the first probably will lift their restrictions and in that sense if the customers posting the reviews about you know great trips that they had before, maybe sharing with their friends on social media hey I've been to these this was a trip of a lifetime guys, highly recommend! That's definitely really encouraging for tourism operators so yeah good to know that relief is coming through in the short term.

MARY: I can absolutely imagine why operators would want to be focused on the recovery and exactly what that's going to involve as well when I finally throughout this crisis. We've seen so many innovative ideas already for people connecting with each other and I'm thinking things like people coming out on their balconies in Italy and singing. In Australia it's been a bit weirder I think there's now half a million or so people who are sharing pictures of themselves taking the bins out on Facebook so we're a creative bunch there's no doubt about it but is there something you've seen that's been specific to the tourism industry of how people are staying connected through this time?

ELENA: I think they're online tours online dives online educational tools online zip line through the jungle and these are the things that are taking off online wine tasting so I think there is a lot of different innovative ways in which tourism businesses and tourism related businesses are adjusting so there is a lot of bringing that experience that customers would normally have face-to-face into the digital sphere and platforms so there is a lot of that happening and I think there is a great opportunity today because actually when the things get to normal still not everybody is able to travel so I think maybe with this current situation we're exploring the opportunities that exist for digital tourism and something that maybe there will be different tourism products that will stay available even after these restrictions are lifted because let's face it like you know there is some disabled people that would like to see Great Barrier Reef but for example don't have the physical capabilities to go and make the trips so whatever the data and the content that is shared now on the digital platforms is I'm sure very interesting for them going forward regardless of the restrictions so I think definitely there is a lot of innovation in that space bringing those two lism experiences another one I think it's not specific to tourism but it's a slow TV when people just zoom in and just wish something in the real time be it sunset sunrise moonrise you know the ocean or maybe even the train taking a trip so there is a lot of that kind of just taking this time to join in a particular feed and just relax and get that feeling of calmness and I think that's what tourism operators can capitalise on right now to actually build those digital products that they can use going forward to promote they experiences as well as probably target different customers that they normally would target some customers that aren't able to attend their tours and experiences physically so there's different opportunities to be explored and as I said tourism businesses are quite innovative so I think in this tough space many actually take it on the chin and continue to come up with great ideas.

MARY: It's a really good point and I think you're absolutely right the tourism sector is going to look a lot different after this and possibly for the better, possibly much bigger with all those online opportunities as well. Although I must have been hanging out for the day where a wine tasting is not virtual that's going to be one of my first ports of call! And I think probably a lot of people are on the same boat there, so good to get your perspective on all of this. Dr Elena Konovalov thank you so much for joining us on CQUniversity Commentary and look forward to staying in touch as we see there are emotions of the tourism industry thank you so much.

ELENA: Thank you thank you for having me.