INTERVIEW: The Wizard of Oz – Tourism Australia’s Andrew McEvoy

Since taking charge of Tourism Australia in January 2010, managing director, Andrew McEvoy, has been working to update the country’s image to stress blue sky, clean air and vibrant cities.

Q) We’ve had Paul Hogan putting shrimps on the barbie, bikini models demanding “Where the bloody hell are you?”, and various celebrities entreating visitors to “Come and say g’day.” Why change a formula that works?
A) “I’ve led the change to our current international campaign – There’s nothing like Australia – launched in Shanghai in June 2012. Australia is a sophisticated destination and you have to demonstrate it in this way. Especially since, given the strength of our dollar, Australia is a higher-cost destination now. We can’t trade off our irreverence forever: global travellers are looking for quality, and we need to take our international marketing up a notch.

Q) How do you like to see Australia portrayed?
A) “As a place which offers world travellers a different experience. Looking out the window [of McEvoy’s inner-Sydney office], I see clear blue sky over a cosmopolitan city. I see big smiles, from welcoming people. I can breathe fresh air, even in the central business district – things that most Australians take for granted. Unsurpassed natural beauty meets vibrant cosmopolitan city. That’s an image that sells around the world – it really is our winning formula.”

Q) How do you pick the likely markets?
A) “Tourism 2020 [a national strategy to enhance growth and competitiveness in the tourism industry] is about increasing visitor numbers, but it’s also about profitability. So, who likes what we’ve got to offer? And who will do more and spend more? We market to 25 countries in 17 languages, and our visitor profile is trending towards a well-educated, self-made group who are big travellers, socially aware and tech-savvy. They’ve researched a lot of information online, even if they use a travel agent to actually book. We’re tuned in to that. When we target an audience, we know what they read, what they watch, what they listen to, how they plan a holiday – and, in turn, how to advocate that. We still have the big, traditional advertising campaigns, but the ability to bring those to life through other [social media] mediums is something very powerful.”

“Unsurpassed natural beauty meets vibrant cosmopolitan city. That’s an image that sells around the world – it really is our winning formula.”

Andrew McEvoy
Managing Director, Tourism Australia

Q) What do visitors see as Australia’s greatest assets?
A) “It’s pretty clear that a common refrain is: world-class beauty and the natural environment. Our beaches, parks and native animals still appeal, but more and more, Australia is seen as very open and friendly. Condé Nast has voted Australia as the friendliest nation so often they’ve put us in the Hall of Fame! There is growing appreciation of our food and wine offering. Our shopping space is ok – in particular, for Australian brands. Visitors like to go home with their Australian Ugg boots, wine from Penfolds, and skincare products by Jurlique.”

Q) How do you capitalise on these markets?
A) “Australia is in the top three most desired destinations of all target markets, but the real challenge is to connect the aspirational with actual travel. To do this, we work with commercial partners, and Australia, being an island nation – most people don’t swim here! – strong airline partnerships are essential. Currently, Tourism Australia has cooperative marketing agreements with 20 airlines to help increase passenger numbers, for mutual benefit. We also have three-year MOUs [memorandums of understanding] with a number of other major airlines, including Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Virgin, China Southern and, most recently, China Eastern.”

“Our beaches, parks and native animals still appeal, but more and more, Australia is seen as very open and friendly.”

Andrew McEvoy
Managing Director, Tourism Australia

Q) So where are the bulk of visitors to Australia coming from?
A) “For the reasons I’ve said, China is our fastest-growing market: we’ve tripled the number of Chinese visitors in eight years. With more than 600,000 visitor arrivals last year, China now outranks Britain. These visitors want to shop, to dine – particularly on seafood – and they want entertainment, but not necessarily gambling. The Chinese love our beaches – even though they’re not swimmers – and our wildlife. Whilst China will continue to be the engine room of growth, other Asian markets will become increasingly important for us in 2013 and beyond – India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. Eight of Australia’s top 10 visitor markets now lie within the Asia-Pacific rim.”

Q) Do you see a permanent shift from West to East among your visitor demographic?
A) “Our plan is to continue building momentum, to continue the transition from Western to Eastern markets. And the one-stop, non-stop flight from most points in Asia, along with increasing wealth in that region, is a great point of difference. But our ‘one voice’ initiative aims to build partnerships globally. Americans are arriving in great numbers, up 4% in 2012, after several years of slump, and Japan is showing signs of bouncing back after its earthquake and tsunami. The UK and Europe are coming back and should continue to do so as their economy improves, and this gives us a bigger world to play in. The British and Irish rugby tour, and the cricket Ashes, both occurring in 2013, should be a new source of inbound capacity, so that is really helpful.”

“China is our fastest-growing market: we’ve tripled the number of Chinese visitors in eight years. With more than 600,000 visitor arrivals last year, China now outranks Britain.”

Andrew McEvoy
Managing Director, Tourism Australia

Q) Could Qantas’ decision to sever ties with Tourism Australia, following realignment of its Kangaroo routes via Dubai, have any long-term impact on Australia?
A) “The Qantas announcement was an unhelpful distraction for the industry, especially at a time when Australian tourism is performing well. I hope we’ll be able to get things resolved at the earliest opportunity in 2013. On the other hand, the global aviation partnership between Qantas and Emirates enables Qantas, with the biggest network in Australia, to tap into the incredible global network of Emirates. This should have a very positive impact for Australia. Emirates has one of the strongest international networks in the world and is already one of Tourism Australia’s most committed marketing partners. Qantas will provide dispersal opportunities for visitors to Australia, through the complementary strength of its established domestic network.”

Q) How about new markets, such as South America?
A) “We are seeing great growth out of Argentina and Brazil – which, like India, might be the markets of tomorrow. India is already one of the world’s fastest growing outbound travel markets and it’s only getting started, with the United Nations World Tourism Organization predicting 50 million outbound travellers by 2020. The full tourism potential of India lies in the years ahead, driven by a fast growing economy and a rapidly emerging middle class. Similarly with Argentina and Brazil, you have strong economies and a growing middle class. For visitors from South America, Australia is the only market viewed as a stop-off to Asia. We see huge potential there and a new opportunity that is, as yet, untapped.”

“We are seeing great growth out of Argentina and Brazil – which, like India, might be the markets of tomorrow. India is already one of the world’s fastest growing outbound travel markets and it’s only getting started.”

Andrew McEvoy
Managing Director, Tourism Australia

Q) What are the main challenges and opportunities facing Australian tourism?
A) “The main challenge is just competition. In the simpler times of the 80s and 90s, Australia was one of the pioneers of tourism marketing. Today, in the UK alone, there are 180 national tourism bodies all trying to capture the same markets we are. Today, tourism is the world’s biggest industry – everyone’s into the lucrative leisure business. But that also leads into the biggest opportunity: the digital social environment. When traditional mediums were the only way to reach consumers, it really did come down to how much money was spent. Now, if you are a desirable destination – which Australia is – we have the opportunity to outthink, rather than outspend. Our Nothing like Australia campaign has a strong focus on the digital, social media and advocacy channels that have become so central to holiday planning. Tourism Australia has the largest Facebook page in Australia with more than 3 million fans, and one of the strongest Twitter followings. We have a dedicated YouTube channel, are the biggest destination on Google+, Instagram and Pinterest, as well as a large presence on major Asian social media platforms Weibo and Tudou. Digital platforms represent an approach we’ve used as we roll out with each phase of There’s nothing like Australia.”

Q) Tourism 2020 targets a 54% increase in international seats, and a 25% increase in domestic seats, by 2020. What can help you to achieve that?
A) “Australia’s visa system stacks up well by and large, but it could always be improved. The Australian Government is looking at e-visas to reduce the time and effort for people who want to come here.  In terms of tourism infrastructure, our capital cities need more hotel rooms, while regional Australia needs better beds. A partnership formed with Austrade to attract new hotel investment aims to address that. We’re also continuing to work with our 20 airline partners to further grow profitable capacity to Australia. For ourselves, Tourism Australia will retain a balanced portfolio approach to our international marketing in 2013 and beyond – an approach that I believe is the right one if we are to achieve our goal of doubling overnight tourism by the end of the decade.

This story was modified from an original feature that appeared in the latest issue of Routes News.

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