By June this year, the total international arrivals to Australia hit 7.8 million people. This was an increase of 10 per cent from the previous year — a great feat for the national tourism body, Tourism Australia, proving that its strategies to attract the travellers of the world are really working. According to Managing Director John O’Sullivan, the land Down Under is a pretty easy place to sell — however, that doesn’t mean the organisation can, or should, rest on its laurels. Tourism Australia is constantly coming up with fresh initiatives and innovative campaigns to keep the visitation numbers up, so that the hidden treasures of this country can be shared with people across the globe.

“There’s no question that this is a great product to be able to market and sell internationally because we have, in abundance, the things that international visitors are looking for,” John explains. “We are a safe and friendly destination. We provide value for money. We have amazing experiences. All of this is really important for today’s international traveller. They’re looking to do things that are immersive, and they’re looking to do things the locals do that they can’t do back home. I think Australia has that in abundance — whether it’s Uluru and the amazing Field of Light art installation that’s there until March next year, or a boat ride out to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkelling, or a visit to Kangaroo Island, the list goes on and on; Australia has so much to offer. At the core, our product is extremely good. 

“We want to be even bolder and try to get to $140 billion in visitor overnight spend by the end of 2020.”

“Tourism Australia’s job is to be a platform, or a mouthpiece, to say to people internationally: ‘This is a great product that you should experience and it has all of the things you could ever possibly want’.”

John joined the Tourism Australia team in March 2014, coming from a professional background spanning across three key fields — sport, media, and events. His previous work history had taken him to many parts of the world, including the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, and also exposed him to the inner workings of the tourism sector. “There were a number of things that really attracted me to the role of Managing Director with Tourism Australia,” John says. “Primarily, it’s a great organisation. It has a fantastic reputation as a world leader in tourism and it interested me on so many levels. Then there are the people within Tourism Australia and the industries we work with who are really fantastic — it truly is a great privilege to be leading the organisation.”

The overarching vision for Tourism Australia is to make the country the most desirable and memorable destination on the planet. To achieve this it rolled out Tourism 2020 six years ago, a whole-of-government and industry strategy to guide the organisation on its growth journey. The goal is to achieve an annual minimum of $115 billion in overnight spend by 2020, which would be an increase from $70 billion in 2009.

“We’re an ambitious organisation,” John notes. “We don’t want to get to that target and say, ‘right, job’s done’. We want to be bolder and get to $140 billion in visitor overnight spend by the end of 2020,” he explains. Our Tourism 2020 strategy has three phases. From its inception to the end of 2014 it was all about building the base, and we’re now in the middle phase which is about
seeing the results. From the end of 2017 we’ll be looking at what’s beyond 2020. The strategy has endured changes in federal government, changes of state government (because each state and territory has its own set of 2020 goals), as well as many changes in the industry.”

Collaborating closely with the industries it operates with has been crucial to the success of Tourism Australia’s 2020 vision, and has required it to take its partnerships to the next level. Thus, it has increased its investment in these relationships from $54 million per year up to $80 million. Another area of focus has been on its digital transformation journey. “Tourism Australia has always been amazing at social media,” John notes. “It is now really about taking and to the next stage and managing our move towards the programmatic media buying that we’re embarking upon.”

Furthermore, diversifying the brand has been a big opportunity that Tourism Australia is capitalising on. Since coming on board John has been working hard to dial up some of the country’s core strengths that are important to people when they make a decision around travel — namely food and wine, as well as aquatic and coastal experiences. The tagline ‘There’s nothing like Australia’ is always front of mind, and the organisation has launched some dedicated creative around Indigenous tourism, for the first time in its history.

“Every market is different, because they’re at a different stage of development and they have a different story to tell about Australia,” John explains. “Some of them have different drivers behind out-of-region travel, and some of them have different perceptions of what’s important to them and what will convince them to go to Australia. Then there are some really functional items in and around aviation capacity and supply, as well as how easy it is to get a visa.

“A great example of this is China. We thought that by 2020 China could be worth about $9 billion annually to the Australian visitor economy. Our strategy to achieve that has been about getting to know our customers, and then putting the right experiences in front of them.”

The results from this approach to the Chinese market has been incredibly successful for Tourism Australia. “Our compound growth out of that market over the past six years has been about 20 per cent, and it is already worth almost $9 billion,” John reveals. “We now think it will be worth as much as $14 billion by the year 2020. You only have to look at the numbers of Chinese travellers and the type of customers that are coming to Australia today to see that we seem to be hitting the
right markets.”

Tourism Australia’s success, not only in China, but in many other parts of the world has now laid the foundation for it to attract some strong names to its ‘Friends of Australia’ ambassador program. At the start of this year it announced Australian actor Chris Hemsworth as the face of a campaign to promote the country’s world-class aquatic and coastal experiences. From a base investment of $500,000, Chris has already generated close to $80 million in return publicity. “We’ve seen an acceleration of growth out of the US where he has a particularly high profile, and he provides an authenticity because he’s speaking as an Australian. It’s been a really important partnership for us in so many ways. He brings that extra emphasis on culture and advocacy and that is really important in being able to sell Australia offshore.”