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Mr Barr won’t be the only passenger delayed. Fog usually disrupts flights at Canberra Airport on an average of 21 days each year.
Hosted by the VisitCanberra tourism authority, the “speed dating” style seminar included 15-minute presentations by organisations including the National Museum of Australia, Australian Institute of Sport, hotel operators and the Canberra Convention Centre.
First-hand familiarity with Canberra was low, with only a few of the attendees having visited the ACT and just one having been in the past five years.
VisitCanberra chief Ian Hill said Singapore tourists love Australia – and the ACT had to compete for their business.
He said events in cities such as Singapore helped build relationships with travel agents, who serve as powerful marketers for Canberra when planning holidays and business travel for their clients.
Canberra’s open spaces and national institutions were key to the city’s appeal, he said.
“There is 86 per cent repeat visitation rate to Australia by Singaporeans so they are looking for something new,” he said.
Mr Barr and airport chief Stephen Byron will continue meetings with international airlines during his visit to Asia.
The ACT government has committed $600,000 to marketing and tourism services, if a deal can be reached with an international carrier.
Mr Hill expects direct international flights to Canberra would operate within two to five years.
“I think we’ve got an infrastructure now that allows us to start a more serious conversation with a range of airlines and that’s what we are doing.
“Generally high disposable income, public servants with good leave arrangements and a propensity to travel; from an outbound perspective, shopping and travel going into south-east Asia. The bit we’re doing work on is convincing them on the inbound perspective.”
Singapore-based tourism participants said the lack of flights was holding back Canberra’s market share, with many choosing Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.
Singaporean tourists have some of the highest repeat visitation rates to Australia, and the latest ACT industry figures show travel from Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong and Malaysia increased by more than 30 per cent in 2013.
Tourism product manager Annie Wong Poh Kam said Asian travellers faced inconvenience and high costs to reach the ACT via Sydney or Brisbane.
“If there is a direct flight from Singapore, we can tell customers that flying to Canberra could be packaged into a broader trip.
“For those who don’t want to take a domestic connecting flight, they have to make alternative arrangements, like hiring a car and driving from Sydney. Some of them won’t do that,” she said.
Business travel expert Geraldine Lau said accessibility to Canberra limited corporate spending, in favour of Sydney.
“If Australia is a destination that they have picked out … then you are going to be competing with destinations with direct flights.
“They also need to be regular flights, which are convenient,” she said. “For big groups, coming from all over the world, they will need options for flights.
“Canberra is not on the top of people’s minds. On top of paying for the international fare, you have to get a domestic flight or get a coach, which is expensive.”
Ms Lau said Canberra’s attractions including Parliament House were key points of difference for organisers of international meetings and events.
The trade delegation’s focus will shift to IT, infrastructure and investment in coming days.
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Tourism officials push Canberra Airport during trip to Singapore