Monday 22 June 2009

Output group 3
3.1 Tourism -

Tas e-Connect
Mr FINCH - In terms of those people with Tas e-Connect, where are they based? Are they in Launceston? Where does that operation function out of?

Ms MARIANI - It is not really an operation.  Tas e-Connect is a banner that we have put over our work that we are doing to e-enable the industry, and that has largely been a learning and development program that is run out of our development area.  It is not about product and distribution and selling; it is about developing the capability of the industry to understand how to get connected to these new forms of distribution.  So that is a side of our area that sits very much in the development area by business.  It is about learning and development with our industry.  It is not about selling product, which is where the wholesale operation has been.  This sits on the industry development side of the equation.

We have 12 people who will remain in the Launceston operation.  We recognise that Tasmania is a complex destination and that there are still a lot of questions about how do I engage, how long should I allow to travel, can I stay here and be there by nightfall et cetera.  Those types of questions can be answered through the contact centre that will be maintained.  There are five people staying in the contact centre to deal with those types of consumer calls.  There is also a side of the business in Launceston that will remain which is about the Famils program - the trade and medium Famils, the engagement for the industry - and that remains in Launceston as well. 

Mr FINCH - Is Tas e-Connect the replacement for -


Mr FINCH - Have people moved away from Tasmania's Temptations and now Tas e-Connect is how people are doing business?


Ms O'BYRNE - Some of Tasmania's Temptation staff will move into the contact centre, which will provide the services that Ms Mariani just mentioned.  Tas e-Connect is our -

Ms MARIANI - It is a banner.  It is a name of a program that we put over the whole concept of e- enablement, or online distribution.  There are a number of things that fit into this Tas e-Connect name. 

Mr FINCH - Is that for the industry?

Ms MARIANI - It is not an operation.  It is for the industry.  As I said, it is a learning and development program largely to assist the industry to understand how they engage with this whole new world of online distribution.  It is not a program.  It is not something you sign up for.  It is actually a banner that we have put over the top of this whole notion of the open exchange platform. 

Ms O'BYRNE - That is probably where I think Kerry is heading - the open exchange program underpins that, so it might be beneficial taking you through that.  That is what physically exists underneath it, but it is not the be-all and end-all of e-Connect. 

Ms MARIANI - Yes.  It is complex because it is not about swapping from a wholesale operation to this thing called Tas e-Connect.  That is not what this is about.  Tas e-Connect, as I said, is almost like a trademark that we have put over the top of how we will engage with the industry in this new online distribution world.  One side of it is about industry development.  The other side is in relation to the open booking exchange platform. 

The open booking exchange is actually - it gets very complex.  I am going to try to find a simple way to describe this - part of what all the states across the country including Tasmania participate in.  It is called the Australian Tourism Data Warehouse.  That is the big database product all across Australia that feeds into 'Australia dotcom'.  Each state has its own individual database.  Through that relationship with ATBW we have this program called Tourism Exchange Australia, which has allowed us to connect to this open exchange platform.  I need a whiteboard to describe this. 

Mr FINCH - Keep going; it is okay. 

Ms MARIANI - The open exchange platform, if you can think about this: it is actually something that sits underneath our website.  So if you have your website -

Ms O'BYRNE - You go to discovertasmania.com, for instance. 

Ms MARIANI - You have visually what you are looking at as a consumer, and you come online and you take a look at all the different products and you decide, 'I'll take it,' and book it now.  What the open exchange platform does is it is a piece of technology that sits behind all of that which basically goes out and pulls up all of the various places where you can buy that product.  So if you are interested in ABC accommodation, ABC accommodation may have their product listed through 10 distribution sites -

Ms O'BYRNE - So you might find it on their own website or on Wotif or on Last Minute, or they might be attached to a particular chain of hotels and you might find it on that. 

Mr FINCH - But this will be accessed through one site?

Ms O'BYRNE - That is the key.  Before what you would have to do is you would have to go in and go, 'What is Wotif charging me for this little accommodation place in Scottsdale?' You would be directed to their own website and see what they were charging there.  You would go and have a look at what Last Minute is charging, and there are variations in all of those rates regularly.  What this will do is allow you to see what all the options are. 

Ms MARIANI - Think about Web Jet or flightcentre.com.  It pulls up all the different flights and all the different prices, whether you are prepared to take the risk of not being able to cancel, whether you want to have luggage or not, whether you want to carry something on or not.  It is the same sort of philosophy.  It pulls up all the different places that the consumer can purchase that product and then they decide where they want to buy it from. 

Mr FINCH - So this is driven by the State Government?

Ms MARIANI - Well, it is driven by -

Mr FINCH - I am wondering what the industry involvement is and what their response is to this. 

Ms O'BYRNE - Tourism Industry Council Tasmania is a part of taking us on the journey of e- Connect.  It is something that we have worked on together.  Researchers have identified a shortfall and a need.  We are working on it together.  It would not work if industry were not signing up to it.  We could run any fantastic you-beaut program we wanted, but unless industry were prepared to say, 'That's a great product and I'm going to use it,' it would not matter.  I think we already have some 200 online products?

Ms MARIANI - There are just over 200 products that are currently distributed through the open exchange -

Mr FINCH - Does this benefit small operators? I am just wondering about family operations and much smaller operations.  Is there a cost to them?

[5.00 p.m.]
Ms MARIANI - It is in fact much better for small operators.  The reality is that a small operator with two rooms or three rooms cannot even put their inventory up on Wotif, because Wotif has a minimum of five rooms.  A number of other distributors have limitations as to the number of rooms that they will accept.

Prior to this open exchange, the other problem you had is that, if you only have three rooms or even five rooms, as a small business owner you had to go in and manually manage all your inventory.  If you have five rooms up there with 10 different people, every time somebody sells a room you have to go back in and you have to change everything so no-one double books.  What this system does is automatically updates all of that.  So all these different distribution points are now pooling from a single source, and when somebody pulls one piece of inventory out it automatically updates the remainder.  So it takes away the back-of-house operation.

The other thing from a small business owner that has been official is the fact that it is a huge improvement to the cash operation of their business.  When this online “bookability” takes place, the customer is actually putting their credit card number in.  The minute that the transaction is made, commission goes to wherever the commissions need to go to, based on the distributor, and the operator immediately has the balance credited to their account.  So cash flow for small operators is immediately improved.  You do not have to wait until somebody gets in front of the door and maybe they do not show up and pay you at the time, unless you have a deposit.  With this new system your net take after commission goes straight into the account at the time the booking is made. 

Mr FINCH - Is this leading tourism technology in Australia?

Ms MARIANI - Yes, it is. 

Ms O'BYRNE - I think South Australia has a version of this, but we are recognised as leading the pack. 

Mr FINCH - For a consumer anywhere on the mainland, are you saying that they basically go to discovertasmania.com and there will be the option for them to join this?

Ms MARIANI - Can I say the benefit of this strategy is not just about discovertasmania.com.  This is where Tasmania is leading the pack, because all the other States are singularly focused on 'I now have distribution on my website, and that is what I want to do'.  What we have recognised is that discovertasmania.com is only one mechanism where consumers will find operators.  What this open exchange platform does is connect them to a whole range of other distribution points.  There are 178 different distributors who currently operate on the open exchange, and our operators technically have access to any one of those 180 distribution points that are out there.

If you think about how many people go into lastminute.com or needitnow.com or discoveraustralia.com.au, they have much bigger eyeballs, as they call them, in terms of people coming into their website than discovertasmania.com.  But what we have done now is we have opened up this whole world of distribution to all of our operators in Tasmania.  We have made it easy for them to connect to distribution points they would never have been able to find on their own.  In the process we have reduced their back-of-house operation and improved their cash flow. 

CHAIR - Thank you.  Next question, please. 

Mr DEAN - Eyes glaze over talking about technology and IT. 

CHAIR - It is exciting, but there are plenty of others who have something to say, too. 

Mr DEAN - Tourists to the State still often raise the situation of inadequate caravan sites, parking and so on throughout the State.  What have we done in tourism to provide more opportunities for caravanners to-

Ms O'BYRNE - We have a current assessment going on in relation to caravan parks and uses. 

Ms MARIANI - We do have a caravan and camping association that we work closely with.  Largely what we have been working on is developing not the sites but working with people who are looking to improve those sites.  Obviously, there are lots of issues because from council to council - because, as you well know, Business Services said that they would hold it so long as the Launceston businesspeople supported them, and then we did not.  In the end, businesses made the point that if they were only going to Melbourne, they were not booking the business class flights; they were booking the cheap ones.  Yes, I agree, it would be great to have business class flights and it would be wonderful, but if people do not actually then use them and it does not deliver a return to the airline, then you cannot blame them for making that decision.

Mr WING - You do not have to have your seats allocated for business.  They are getting very good occupancy rates in the aircraft they have.

Ms O'BYRNE - That is true.

Mr WING - They have increased the size, but still it is not a jet service and if you still cannot interline -

Ms MARIANI - Qantas - it has been a long time in coming, but they are probably closer than ever to announcing interline agreements between Qantas and Jetstar.

Mr WING - That is good.


Ms O'BYRNE - Are we allowed to announce that?

Ms MARIANI - No, we are not announcing it.

Ms O'BYRNE - We are not announcing it.

Ms MARIANI - We are not announcing this.  Can I just say to the Minister's point, in the discussions that we have had with the airlines, and in particular with Qantas, we have talked about the importance of the interlining between Qantas and Jetstar.  At the end of the day, realistically, it is a competition issue and the more airlines like Etihad and Malaysia that interline with Virgin, and indeed Virgin Atlantic interlining with Virgin trans-Pacific, all of a sudden the reality is there that they have got to get that interlining on Qantas because it is a competitive disadvantage if they are not doing it.  So for all of our arguing for years, the reality is that market forces are going to demand that Qantas adjust that because, as I said, Virgin is quickly coming out with all of these interlining arrangements out of Asia and out of North America, and if Jetstar and Qantas are not interlining they are going to lose market share.  It is inevitable.

So, as I said, it is an argument we have been having for a very, very long time, because I think we have all been on the receiving end of the lack of interlining arrangements between the two.  But that is something that is very much on the cards.  As a matter of fact, they did actually announce this.  It actually got buried, if I am not mistaken, in the media release about the Virgin flight out of Canberra.  But there actually was an announcement that Jetstar made about the interlining connection with Qantas.  Now, it is obviously systems connections that they have to work through and that integration takes time.  It is computer technologies talking to one another.  So they are working through it, but I know that Jetstar made that announcement at about the same time that Virgin announced the direct flight between Canberra and Hobart, and because that was easier to understand I think it got picked up more in the media.  But, in fact, this interlining arrangement between Qantas and Jetstar, as you have highlighted, is extremely important to international connectivity.