This article is part of our August series on travel and hospitality. Click here for more.
Within Australia’s magnificent coastline lies a vibrant, world-class culinary scene, rugged, earthy terrain, and a personality that feels like a big hug. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the country is one of the world’s most sought-after travel destinations.
While it sounds like an easy sell, Tourism Australia managing director John O’Sullivan understands all too well the challenge of pleasing today’s digitally savvy travellers. “Travellers these days are always on,” he said. “They travel when they want to, and that’s no longer within certain time frames, so we as an industry need to be prepared all year round.”
Tourism Australia is trying to attract prospective travellers via its content platform, which offers a “try before you buy” experience that leverages virtual reality (VR) and 360-degree images.
CMO.com sat down with O’Sullivan to discuss the platform in detail.
CMO.com: Tourism Australia has crafted a number of digital experiences using emerging technologies to give prospective visitors a taste of what Australia has to offer. Has the investment been worthwhile?
O’Sullivan: Yes, absolutely. We’ve used technology to put Australia in the hands of consumers, travel agents, and our industry.
We have about 22 trainers in core markets around the world who talk to and train travel agents, and they’re now able to show them a piece of Australia like they've never been able to before. They can swim with sea lions at Boston Bay and Port Lincoln or whale sharks in Ningaloo, or they can be on Sydney Harbour.
In markets like China, where VR is becoming more mainstream, frankly, the investment has more than paid for itself because we can tell our story in a different way. We’ve used these technologies heavily in China, and it’s no secret that we’ve seen an accompanying rise in its preference as a destination.
CMO.com: Australia has jumped from tenth to fourth on Chinese consumers’ list of most desirable destinations in just two years. How do you position Australia in the world?
O’Sullivan: Our whole positioning is built around the insights we have gleaned from our Asian research. It really comes down to three key areas: our natural beauty, our food and wine, and our cosmopolitan cities. Campaigns like Restaurant Australia were designed to promote our country’s food and wine attributes that Chinese consumers love. We’ve also worked with the industry on developing experiences and investing in hard infrastructure.
CMO.com: How are you reaching audiences and tailoring content to other global markets?
O’Sullivan: By using data and insights from australia.com, we can tailor content to suit viewer preferences in different markets. We’ve also embedded trip-planning tools so you can build your itinerary, email it to your friends and family, or email an Aussie specialist to help book your trip.
The beauty of our Adobe partnership is that it enables access to australia.com in 11 countries and languages.
CMO.com: How does Tourism Australia discover these insights?
O’Sullivan: Every year we conduct our Consumer Demand Project where we talk to over 100,000 people in 15 key markets about what makes Australia appealing. We talk to people who have visited Australia and those who haven’t, and ask them questions about why they’d pick Australia over other destinations. That research spits out insights from each market, like preferences for food and wine, safety and security, value for money, along with the natural beauty of the destination. We then use the information gathered to construct our campaigns.
CMO.com: Tourism is a booming but competitive global industry. Could you touch on that?
O’Sullivan: Tourism is one of the most competitive sectors on the planet. For example, we are now one of 190 destinations that are competing for that share of wallet in China. That’s been driven by the fact that destinations are now awake to the fact that tourism is an economic driver. It’s one of the biggest employers in the world, it’s one of the biggest service industries in the world, and it’s no secret now why governments are putting their money behind tourism marketing and promotion.
CMO.com: Digital has disrupted nearly every industry and market, but how have you seen this specifically shape Tourism Australia’s approach?
O’Sullivan: The major disruption has been in the rapid acceleration of mobile use, especially over the past two years. Tourists are using their mobile phones through the entire journey of the purchase funnel, whether it’s searching for destinations and experiences, booking transactions, or starting the whole process again once they leave.
This is reflected in our own consumption trends for australia.com. Last year, about 18% to 20% of our users accessed the site through mobile phones. That’s now up to 50% in the space of one year.
CMO.com: What is your greatest frustration with the industry now?
O’Sullivan: The thing for me is that tourism is an emerging sector within the Australian economy, yet it’s still challenging for the service sector to be recognised as a legitimate career path for younger Australians. The most frustrating part for me personally is that this cultural change won’t happen without time and effort.