Australian tourism is bouncing back strongly after a challenging start to 2011. BTN speaks to the managing director of Tourism Australia, Andrew McEvoy.
BTN: What in the way of plans, developments or initiatives does Tourism Australia currently have underway?
AM: Probably our biggest focus is the 2020 Tourism Industry Potential, the long-term vision for our industry to improve its performance and competitiveness.
The focus is deliberately ambitious – with stretch targets to double overnight visitor expenditure from today’s AU$70 billion to between AU$115 billion and AU$140 billion by 2020. The key markets where this growth will come from have been identified and this is where Tourism Australia will focus its marketing efforts going forward.
We launched the Potential at the end of 2010, but this year we’ve been working really hard to embed it with industry and to bring it to life for operators. It was a key theme of this year’s Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE), held in April in Sydney, drilling down beyond the AU$140 billion headline figure and looking at the specific regions and markets where these numbers are going to come from, and where the industry needs to focus its future efforts.
It was great getting feedback from Australian operators in particular as they start to engage with how this vision might affect their own business.
We also continue to roll out our successful “There’s nothing like Australia” global campaign, working closely with our airline and the trade partners. This is a campaign which has been built for the long-term but is already gaining momentum internationally, and is now active in 29 markets around the world.
While the campaign has only been running for a year, early indications are that it’s working, bringing those that have seen it a significant step closer to booking an Australian holiday.
BTN: Visitors from China rose 23.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2011. Have you been doing anything in particular to cultivate this market?
AM: As I keep telling people, this has been an “overnight success story” which has been 12 years in the making! Since being the first western country to be awarded Approved Destination Status (ADS) for group leisure travel back in 1999, we’ve put a huge amount of effort into developing the China market, the benefits of which are now being seen.
We have a very strong and committed Tourism Australia team in China, the majority locals, which has certainly been a key factor in helping us to develop the trust and relationships needed to do business in this part of the world. In particular, we have created a strong distribution network with more than 2,000 Aussie Special Travel Agents forming a network in the 13 key cities in which we work. And we have spent heavily promoting the destination to Chinese consumers – on our own and in partnership with the airlines and other industry partners.
The Australian Government recognises the importance of establishing close tourism ties and stronger working relationships with China, which has also been critical. The recent signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between our two Governments is a significant step towards maximising China’s tourism potential and supports other initiatives such as Tourism Australia’s 2020 Strategic China Plan which was launched at the China Summit in Cairns on June 8.
BTN: Can you tell us about the 2020 China Strategic Plan?
AM: Over 140 countries now enjoy ADS status. Being first across the start line may have given us a head start, but our competitors are quickly catching up.
The 2020 China Strategic Plan is about us staying ahead of the game, and providing clear direction for the Australian tourism industry.
The 2020 China Strategic Plan aligns closely with Tourism Australia’s overall strategy and is the result of extensive consultation with 60 key stakeholders in both Australia and China.
Tourism Australia has identified a number of key opportunities from China: a growing upper and middle class; the emergence of the Free Independent Traveller (FIT) segment; growth in demand for Business Events; a strong digital and social media environment creating new media, advocacy and distribution channels; expansion of aviation capacity under the Air Service Agreement; and increased awareness of the China opportunity by governments and industry stakeholders.
It focuses on:
- Building customer focus and knowledge, to ensure Australia’s offering is competitively differentiated;
- Having a clear Geographic Strategy, to focus our resources effectively, recognising the huge potential of some of China’s secondary cities;
- Industry development, to ensure industry is informed on the needs of Chinese visitors and can provide relevant and quality experiences;
- Ease of access, and this means both aviation development and the continued streamlining of visas;
- Strong partnerships, ensuring strategic alignment across all levels of government and industry
For our part, I’m very focused on ensuring Tourism Australia builds the required capability and uses its resources appropriately to effectively deliver its part of the China Strategy.
BTN: You recently attended the WTTC Global Travel & Tourism Summit in Las Vegas. What did you take away from the conference?
AM: That we have much to be proud of and much to learn. And that there is a world of interest in destination Australia and we can tap into that more – whether it be through better distribution, increased aviation capacity or through new investment.
BTN: After a devastating start to 2011 with the floods, how is the rest of the year shaping up for your tourism industry? And do you have a particular message you are sending out, or a recovery plan?
AM: Despite the well documented challenges of flooding and cyclones at home, earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, continued economic weakness in some of our key source markets and a soaring Aussie dollar, Australia’s inbound numbers continue to grow and I’m pretty optimistic for the future.
Most of these events are one-offs or part of a natural economic cycle. The good news is that Australia continues to have enduring high appeal – ranking second overall in the FutureBrand study of country brands in 2010 – and people still want to travel here.
Australian tourism’s challenge and opportunity is to capture this demand and convert it into more visits by enhancing our competitiveness.
We have to keep improving to stay ahead. This means keeping our eye on the ball and continued investment in quality products, experiences and better infrastructure.
For its part, Tourism Australia is focused on marketing Australia’s unique tourism attributes where the greatest tourism growth opportunities exist to the right consumers, in the right markets and in the right way.
BTN: How important is the tourism sector to the overall economy of Australia?
Tourism is a vital industry for Australia. It currently generates $96 billion in spending and directly employs around half a million Australians.
As a sector, tourism contributes $34 billion in GDP – that’s 2.6 percent of Australia’s total GDP. It’s big business.
BTN: How would you describe the Australia travel and tourism experience? And what are its USPs?
AM: I would argue that it is our incredible nature, the sense of space, and the opportunity to experience something different that is what really sets Australia apart and which continues to make Australia the appealing destination it is. People also tell me that Australians themselves – our open and welcoming style – is a part of the attraction.
I’d say that our current global campaign pretty much captures it – There’s nothing like Australia.
BTN: How would you like Australia’s tourism industry to evolve?
AM: I think the direction we’re heading in at the moment is right, with wide-scale recognition across government and industry that Australia’s tourism performance needs to be improved.
There’s also good balance between supply and demand side strategies in seeking to address these issues.
What Tourism Australia has done in recent times is set out a much clearer vision of what success looks like for the industry and all levels of government to support.
With the 2020 Tourism Industry Potential we now have clear goals to become more competitive and attract stronger inbound growth, including identifying the key markets where our numbers are going to come from.
What is the mix of public-private partnerships and how do these work together to benefit Australia’s tourism sector?
I think one of the biggest opportunities for public-private sector partnerships is in tourism infrastructure. Investment is undoubtedly needed to bring some of Australia’s tourism infrastructure back up to world class.
We’ve some excellent recent examples of quality private investment in great new regional product. But, there’s more to be done and we intend to work with the industry and all levels of government and make this happen.
Nobody else possesses the same level of consumer insight, trade relationships or market understanding. We’re already doing some of product gap analysis work and we enjoy well-established and growing partnership relationships with the State and Territory Tourism Organizations (STOs) - essential, considering that much of the ability to fast track and overcome regulatory barriers lies within their jurisdiction.
Through our knowledge, information, experience and relationships, Tourism Australia is uniquely placed to play a stronger and more proactive role in investment attraction through more effective public and private partnership.
We want to send out a positive signal to investors that we are there to help and that the Government is committed to supply side growth.