Youth travellers and the VFR market are set to be the first to return to Australia, according to the tourist board, despite there being no set date for the reopening of the country’s borders.

Tourism Australia also reported “heartening” levels of engagement from the trade in its Aussie Specialist programme, which is being revamped with snappier, more topical content aimed at more experienced sellers.

Managing director Philippa Harrison said the next one to two years would be focused on the recovery of tourism.

She said: “In this period, it will be about who has more propensity to travel and for us, that has always been the youth market – a very important and resilient market to Australia – so we think that the youth market will come back earlier, and also VFR (visiting friends and relatives).

“We’ve never targeted them in a specific way but there are family connections, and we have all been missing family over this period, so we will be looking at the VFR market.

“We’re open to looking at whatever cohorts want to travel. If we still have quarantine restrictions when travel starts to free up, it will be longer term travellers who might be prepared to stay.”

Sally Cope, regional general manager for the UK and Northern Europe at Tourism Australia, said: “Just over half of the UK visitors to Australia in 2019 were VFR, so it’s a big market in its own right, and if we can encourage them to get moving as early starters, it will give confidence to people around long-haul travel.”

Cope added that trade fam trips from the UK would be a “high priority” once borders reopen, and said UK destination trainer Alison Lee had been holding trade webinars and training sessions for both beginners and experienced agents.

“What’s been really heartening has been the engagement and how many people are very interested to learn more,” she said. “It’s a real investment in the future because some of these agents may have time on their hands to really dive deep into the product.”

The 23 Aussie Specialist trainers working across worldwide markets have more than doubled the number of agent training sessions this year from an average of 32,000 to more than 80,000 in 2020.

Harrison added: “We are very focused on keeping the industry alive with domestic tourism but please be assured that we do not have our eye off international markets.

“We will not recover as an industry until international borders are open again and [we] can’t wait for that to happen.

“It’s really important that we keep the dream of Australia alive and then as soon as we’re ready to do so, we have big plans for a grand reopening, to really open again with a splash.”

They were speaking at Australia Marketplace, a virtual B2B event connecting more than 300 Australia travel suppliers with 170 travel agents and tour operators in the UK and Europe, taking place on November 10-12.