All posts by Mike Barrow

Mike arrived in Sydney in 1989 as a typical British backpacker with $17 and one phone number. He also decided Sydney was paradise living in a three bedroom unit with 17 other backpackers. He eventually managed to get a proper job in a small backpacking publishing company. After spending four years trying to get residency, Mike finally 'got in' and set up his own company, Travel Maps Australia in 1993. In 2000 the Company rebranded to THE WORD and in 2014 started The Byte. Mike lives in Sydney's northern beaches, keeps fit and healthy and wouldn't live anywhere else.

Post Covid-19 Adventure Travel Industry Australia & NZ

Today feels like a truly legendary day: the first sale in almost 3 months! With restrictions lifting, it feels great looking towards the future again!

We have had a lot of time to explore how we can do better, focusing on delivering quality over quantity, and authenticity over sales talks. Even the smallest improvements are going to make us better than we were before COVID-19.

So after this period of peace and quiet, this campervan sale relieves my worries and convinces me: “This is the start of the end of Covid 19”.

In my business, during the past months of “travel silence” or “hibernation”, I focused on bringing out the good from the bad. I looked closely at our old procedures and improved them.

Dot Travel (Dutchies Travel, Germans Travel, and co.) is ready for a new start: a fresh one and, more importantly, a better one. I can only hope that everyone in this boat, in this industry, will feel the same while reading the following points. 

Before we talk about the future, let’s discuss a few of the scariest words of the industry: “Travel Agent”, “Commission” and “OTAs”. 

Travel Agent: 

Travel agents co-exist in both the retail space and online and promote / market products for operators. Travelers that care about their trip talk to a travel expert who actually has the knowledge of the market and the products. The agent is able to match the right product to the customer, so he or she has the trip of a lifetime and falls in love with Australia.


I like to remind everyone that commission is not a motivation, it’s a reward! It’s the service fee agents are getting paid to promote and sell an operator’s product, and the service fee the customer pays to receive help booking their trip. Agents are there for a reason: they are for people who need/want help!


We all think that OTAs are just online companies whose websites allow consumers to book various travel-related services online without them actually “having to do anything for it”. What we don’t realize is that OTAs actually spend immense amounts of money on development and marketing in order to promote and sell the products on their platform. They might sell it a different way and spend less physical effort, but they have the same costs as any other agent (if not more). 

So after explaining these confusing and scary words, let’s see what we can do to change this industry for the better.

Let’s learn from our mistakes and improve ourselves and each other. 

We have a lot of work to make Australia the best travel country again. Any of the following points could help:

  1. We are all damaged by the business decisions of some companies, but software systems are not your enemy! There’s a lot of work that goes into connecting the millions of booking software, reservations systems, upgrades, add-ons, accounting, and refunding. With the right regulations in place, these systems add true value to agents, operators, and travelers.
  2. The same counts for reservations systems. Having live availability makes everyone’s life easier. If you don’t have it yet, please get it. We live in 2020.
  3. Have a commission structure in place for agents. Reward, don’t motivate. Commission structures can be based on past sales and need to communicate clear steps on what an agent needs to do/reach in order to get a higher reward.
  4. Don’t be afraid of using OTAs. Those customers that do not like to book with a travel agent will book their travel direct. An OTA provides the system to do that, so the customer can “do it themselves” but still have the choice to “decide themselves”.
  5. Don’t devalue your product by the fear of missing out on customers, especially when considering summer/winter prices. We all know that fewer people are traveling in winter, but that doesn’t mean they need to pay less.
  6. If you want to compete, try to be different. Don’t fight with price and commissions. Focus on “Brand Humanity” and determine what your brand stands for. Communicating that message and finding a way to impart feelings into a product are all important ways that brands can set themselves apart from others. “Price is what you pay. Value is what you receive”.
  7. Run your company like a business owner, not like a traveler. If you need help, talk to an expert about regulations, cancelations, and contracts. Don’t just make them up and change them on the go. Now it’s more important than ever to build trust with customers as well as with new and old business partners.

COVID-19 has damaged not only the people in the travel industry but also its overall reputation. We can all do something about that together by asking ourselves:

Where and how am I delivering value to my customers and to my partners?”

Make yourself better, don’t focus only on your commissions or your prices. The question shouldn’t be about price, it should be about delivering value to the customer.  Communicate with your business relationships, be honest, and set clear goals.

Be proud of your product, be proud of your service!

A new future starts by ourselves, by looking at ourselves and not at others, because after all: if we are not willing to change our own habits, how can we expect someone else to change?

Written by Lisanna Weston – Entrepreneur on a mission

Source: LinkedIn

BYTAP – what we are doing to help the youth tourism industry

Like many of you, the company I work for (AIFS) has been heavily hit by the pandemic. It has not been an easy three months – I have had to lay off staff, reduce hours and cut every cost I can find.

I can honestly say it has been the hardest 3 months of my working life. I have a very personal interest in keeping the company I work for running, but having worked in tourism for the last 25 years, I also feel incredibly strongly that we need to do everything we can to keep the industry going.

So I want to share some work BYTAP is doing to let you know that there are also others working to try and keep our industry alive and kicking (with apologies in advance for the length!).

For those of you who may not know BYTAP (Backpackers and Youth Tourism Advisory Panel) was established as a sector advocacy group under ATEC.

While there is no longer any formal connection with ATEC it has continued to meet and when possible advocate behind the scenes for issues relating to our industry.

Current panel members are Brendan McKenna, Mark Baldwin, Kerry Tate, Joanna Burnet, Silke Kerwick and I. Since the onset of COVID-19, BYTAP has regularly met and spoken with representatives from ATV, AQ, the BOAs and other peak industry bodies about what industry sees as the key priorities.

The following is the four we have agreed upon:

Extending financial assistance (such as Job Keeper) for inbound tourism operators

A one-year extension for Working Holiday visa holders effected by the pandemic on/offshore

The potential rollout of a secure corridor (quarantine model) to bring Working Holiday visa holders back to Australia

Reduction in Working Holiday Visa fees

The top point is the most critical; as an industry with no date set for the opening of borders, most of us will not be able to survive without financial support.

BYTAP’s approach is two-pronged; having our message heard by government (and having them act on it!) and getting our message heard in the media.

For the former we have started to take the first steps – last week I met with Minister Katter and we aim to speak with other ministers in the coming weeks.

Our media efforts have only just started and need to be ramped up quickly. To that end we want to share your stories, how the pandemic has affected your business, and the impact it will have if no help is forthcoming in the coming months.

If you’d like to help please email me –

And many thanks to those who have already been in touch with case studies.

While BYTAP is one voice, we know that many of you have already been in touch with your local minister independently – please do not stop. Statements in parliament by Ministers’ Warren Entsch and George Christensen today show that they are listening. We just need to increase this noise.

I’ll leave it there for the moment but happy to hear feedback. I’ve also included the other BYTAP panel members on this post so please feel free to contact us if you prefer.

Thanks for listening.

Source: Wendy Aylward

New backpacker app Backpicker aims to improving farm labour shortages

A former farm and mining worker hopes his new app will help ease labour shortages in Victoria’s north-west.

Key points:

  • Big demand in agriculture sector for foreign workers during picking season
  • Mobile app links backpacker workers to farms
  • Using technology to fill labour hire gaps

Robinvale local David Fevaleaki designed the app Backpicker to link farms with seasonal workers during busy harvest time and already thousands have signed up.

He said he got the idea for the mobile program from his time working on farms and in the mining game, where the legal status of itinerant workers could pose a problem for employers.

“During the registration, the workers have to input information so that the business owner understands their visa status,” Mr Fevaleaki said.

Screengrabs of an app showing locations on a map, 'Avocado picker' and a price of $25.
Former farm and mining worker, David Fevaleaki, hopes his new app will help link backpackers with landholders more easily.(Supplied: David Fevaleaki)

“We will actually show the live available positions that pop up — there’s two positions in Mildura, for example — and as positions get filled, then they will disappear off the map.”

‘You know what you’re getting’

The app is opened to all farmers in Australia, but is currently focused on the agricultural region of Victoria.

Peter Muraca, a third-generation table grape grower from Robinvale, downloaded the app and said it was invaluable for employers who wanted to learn a little bit about the workers they were likely to employ.

“You just know everything about them before you start,” Mr Muraca said.

“You know how long they intend to stay, rather than having to train them up only to have them move on, because they haven’t told you, and then you have to retrain again.

“With the app, they’ll tell you they intend to stay for three months, so you know you’re getting them for three months.”

White table grapes at Robinvale.
Backpicker co-founder Mr Fevaleaki’s parents migrated from Tonga and worked 26 years in the grape-growing industry.(ABC Rural: Emma Brown)

Mr Muraca said there was no other app on the market that he could use to locate labour.

“I think it’s a good idea,” he said. 

“Anything that gives you more options or a bigger pool can’t be bad; it’s got to be good.”

‘It will make life so much easier’

Berlin-based backpacker Leon Rief first came to Australia in 2018, and said he believed the app would have made finding work much easier.

“Finding a job was not easy without any contacts or experiences in a foreign country,” he said.

“I used services like Seek, Craigslist and Gumtree, but that did not work out well for me because we got scammed a lot.

“On platforms like that there is little to no security for both parties, so I experienced a lot of problems as a worker and heard a lot of stories from employers who had problems with finding the right workers for their job.

“With Backpicker, both parties have the opportunity to have some security and with the profile a worker has the opportunity to show their experience.”

Mr Rief said he thought the simplicity of the app would greatly assist both foreign workers and landowners who were not necessarily tech savvy.

“I was amazed how good everything worked out when I first dug into it,” he said.

“It will make the life of both employers and workers so much easier.”

An old retro photo shows a family with kids posing in front of vines at a vineyard, holding boxes of grapes.
Backpicker co-founder David Fevaleaki was inspired to create an app from his experiences working on farms in Victoria’s north west with family and friends.(Supplied: David Fevaleaki)

As COVID-19 border restrictions start to ease across the country, Backpicker co-founder Mr Fevaleaki said he hoped the app would help make life a little easier for those who have been out of work 

“It’s just another tool … for travelling workers to help connect with farm businesses,” he said.

“And we’ll be listening to their feedback.”

Comments please

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow

Coronavirus crisis a ‘heaven-sent opportunity’ to reset national park tourism, advocates say

As a national parks advocate, Nick Sawyer has been more frustrated than most by the coronavirus-crisis park closures, but he’s seeing them as a chance to rethink tourism.

Key points:

  • There are calls for a more sustainable use of reopening National Parks with less overcrowding rather than new infrastructure
  • Sustainability is seen as an important factor, with an industry less reliance on cruise ships and planes
  • Family and friends visiting each other will be the first wave of tourism recovery as the mode, price and destination of travel changes

Mr Sawyer, president of Tasmania’s National Parks Association, has witnessed the boom in the state’s industry in recent years, as its natural wonders like Cradle Mountain and Wineglass Bay draw tourists from the mainland and around the globe.

He thinks the pandemic shutdown of Australia’s parks and the devastation of the tourism industry should be seized as an opportunity to look outside the box as we rebuild. “This is a heaven-sent opportunity to rethink the whole approach,” he said.

For Mr Sawyer, better ways of managing the return of tourists and eventually their booming numbers won’t necessarily mean more infrastructure, like dedicated walkways, viewing platforms and handrails.

“For example, the very popular Wineglass Bay lookout [in Tasmania] is becoming too crowded, so the response [has been to consider building] a second lookout nearby,” he said.

“You don’t need a second lookout.

“You could try and space the tourists more evenly over the course of the day, thereby avoiding the worst of the crowding and giving them a much better experience.”

Tourists take photos from the Wineglass Bay lookout
One suggestion is that tourist numbers at popular places like Wineglass Bay in Tasmania should be regulated rather than new viewing points opened.(ABC News: David Hudspeth)

He points to shuttle bus systems as an example of a way visitor numbers could be managed at Wineglass Bay, to “avoid having to expand the car park, yet again”.

Mr Sawyer is among a growing number of voices suggesting the reopening of national parks across Australia presents an opportunity for a reset in the way Australia’s natural wonders are managed.

Nicholas Sawyer in front of mountain.
Nick Sawyer says the re-opening of parks is an opportunity to be more sustainable.(ABC News: Mitchell Woolnough)

Tourism Australia managing director Phillipa Harrison said the reopening of parks would ignite people’s interest in new ways of travelling.

“There has been a rising interest in sustainability, and making sure you leave a light footprint when you travel,” she said.

“We think this is going to accelerate people’s desire to travel more sustainably.”

University of Queensland Associate Professor Judith Mair said the pandemic had highlighted a myriad of ways Australia’s tourism industry could be more sustainable, and not just when it came to tackling overcrowding.

“It might be putting too much reliance on one sole market, it might be relying too much on cruise tourists, it might be involving the local community in decision-making,” she said.

“There are a lot of ways in which tourism could come back better than it was before.”

Tasmanian wildlife park operator Gena Cantwell said a financially sustainable attraction was now front-of-mind.

Her park relied on the 40 cruise ships that were visiting Tasmania’s north-west each year before an outbreak of coronavirus at the North West Regional Hospital in Burnie forced the strictest lock-down measures in the country.

Ms Cantwell said she was forced to stand down some staff, and look for ways to retain keepers and feed animals.

“It was horrible. It was probably one of the hardest days that we had to deal with here,” she said.

“It will always be in the back of our minds about how something like this can affect us so broadly.

“It was surprising how quickly a virus can bring everything unstuck.”

Woman cuddling an animal.
Gena Cantwell from Wing’s Wildlife Park in Tasmania’s north-west relied on the cruise ship industry before the corona outbreak.(ABC News: Alison Branley)

After lockdown ends she said she would look to the local market, and locals’ relatives, to help reopen the operation, but could not envision staff numbers increasing for some time.

“I don’t imagine that the international tourists or even the mainland tourists are going to come in any hurry,” she said.

“They’re going to be a little bit scared, so we’re just going to have to look and focus on what we can do for our local market and our staff. “I think our tourism bodies are going to have to do a fair bit of damage control.”

Tourism Australia said it was on the case, but the price, destination and mode of tourism travel would change.

“We really are looking to our domestic market to get our industry back on their feet again,” Ms Harrison said.

“We probably will see for a little while people wanting to control their own environment a little more, so we do expect to see people staying a little closer to home and taking their own transport.”

That might mean people using hire cars over planes and buses, or choosing short-stay accommodation over hotels and buffet breakfasts.

“This is a new normal for tourist operators,” she said.

“They are going to have to work out how they can run their businesses economically and work out how they make money with the new regulations around social distancing.”

ED: There are plenty of operators in the youth and adventure sector who use/rely on National Parks for their business. Anyone care to comment on the article?

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow

NSW Government to fund crisis accommodation for international students through coronavirus pandemic

The NSW Government has announced it will fund temporary crisis accommodation for stranded international students.

Key points:

  • NSW Minister Geoff Lee says foreign students need a helping hand
  • 24/7 support service will offer free advice on a range of topics
  • International students are not eligible for JobKeeper or JobSeeker programs

The $20 million package includes a temporary housing scheme delivered through approved student accommodation or homestay providers.

Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education Geoff Lee said increased support would also be provided via the International Legal Service NSW, while free advice would be available from a new 24/7 international student support service through the NSW Government COVID-19 hotline.

The support service will offer free advice and information about other measures, including the moratorium on rental evictions and medical, mental health, legal and emergency support.

“International students are an integral part of our communities and our economy,” Mr Lee said.

“Thousands of families around the State depend on the sector — whether through direct employment, homestays or other services.”

There are more than 500,000 international students in Australia, many whom have lost their jobs during the pandemic.

The Morrison Government had said foreign students should be supporting themselves first and foremost.

International students are not eligible for the Government’s JobKeeper or JobSeeker programs for those in financial hardship because of the pandemic.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said international students could access “more than $1.3 billion” in support.

“International students continue to have access to our world-class health system throughout this pandemic,” he said.

NSW business groups and union leaders have been lobbying the Government to do more to help international students.

Mr Lee said international students made a huge contribution to NSW and deserved a helping hand.

“Many have lost their part-time jobs, are unable to return to their home countries and do not qualify for Commonwealth Government support programs,” he said.

Council of International Students Australia (CISA) president Ahmed Ademoglu welcomed the announcement. 

“We are pleased to see the NSW Government focus on crisis accommodation for vulnerable international students, which is something that we as an association have been calling for,” Mr Ademoglu said.

Opposition tertiary education spokesman Clayton Barr welcomed the support but said it’s “disgraceful” it took the Government so long to step in.

“We could have done so much better here,” he said.

“If your child was at an international university right now and they weren’t allowed to fly home because the borders are shut, you would want that country to do their best to look after their kids.”

ED: Finally some support for the students! They are an integral part of our economy and will be imperative to the rebuilding process.

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow