(eTN) – During the last two months of 2010, Tourism Australia released its strategic plan towards 2020 and hosted TV talk show megastar Oprah Winfrey in December 2010 in a major bid to stimulate tourism to Australia from North America. The real test of the success of the Oprah offensive will be measureable from January 2011 when the Oprah shows staged in Australia will be screened to her vast North American viewing audience.
A small minority of Australian tourism professionals and media commentators were critical of the US$5 million of government money used to support the hosting of Oprah, her crew, and 300 of her American viewers in Australia. However, I along with many other observers believe that this has been an inspired investment by Tourism Australia to stimulate tourism to the Australia from the USA and Canada, not to mention the other 50 countries who view Oprah. The statistics alone are compelling.
In 2010, over 1 million Australians visited the USA (out of a population of 22 million). In fact close to one in six Australians who traveled internationally visited the USA. Conversely in 2010, 450,000 Americans visited Australia (out of a population of 300 million). The USA ranked in the top 5 of outbound destinations for Australian tourists, while Australia ranked at number 27 for preferred outbound destinations for US tourists. This is despite the fact that Australia consistently ranks in the top 3 of aspirational destinations for Americans, (places they would LOVE to visit).
The market research indicates that while Americans would LOVE to visit Australia it is perceived as too far and too expensive. Let’s hang on, Australia is as far from the USA as the USA is from Australia, and now that the US dollar and the Australian dollar are of equal value, Americas will find taking a holiday in Australia (without the airfare) is roughly the same cost as holidaying at home. The other good piece of news is that since 2008, air fares between the US and Australia have fallen 50%, largely due to increased competition on the trans-pacific route.
The challenge that Tourism Australia is taking on is to convert positive American aspirations towards a visit to Australia into travel reservations. The Oprah hosting was certainly one which was full of enthusiasm. At every opportunity Oprah declared her love for Australia, and during her whirlwind tour she certainly covered a lot of territory and received a rapturous reception from Australians in Melbourne, Sydney, Uluru, and Queensland. Her selected 300 viewers traveled to practically every corner of the country. It was noteworthy that for many of the Oprah viewers, it was their first trip outside the USA and the first time they needed to obtain a US passport. Well over 60% of American citizens still do not have a passport.
Fortunately Oprah’s visit was blessed with perfect weather. The unprecedented flooding in Queensland occurred well after she and her retinue left Australia. Americans viewing the Oprah show will see Australia at its best, and one of the main marketing messages is that Americans are genuinely welcome in Australia as opposed to being merely tolerated for their spending money and generous tips.
While it is difficult to measure the impact of the Oprah show on tourism trends to Australia from the USA, the history of well-targeted Australian campaigns such as the 1987 Paul Hogan “shrimp on the barbie” ads indicates that this will produce a significant spike in American tourism to Australia despite the GFC’s impact on the US economy and the historically high level of the Australian dollar. The fact is that almost every major international currency has appreciated against the US dollar. The long-term aim of Tourism Australia’s marketing campaign for North America is to balance the numbers of North Americans visiting Australia. Currently, for every US or Canadian citizen visiting Australia, two Australians visit the USA or Canada. The investment in the Oprah Show may entail some risk, but her powerful influence on the American public has a strong chance of being worth its weight in gold for Australian tourism.
Tourism Australia’s marketing plan to increase inbound tourism to Australia is not limited to the North American market. The challenge of a very strong Australian dollar, recession in Europe, and a price-sensitive market in much of Asia has meant that Tourism Australia has had to tailor very different and market specific approaches to potential source markets. The promotion of experiential tourism (unique experiences to be had in Australia only), leveraging off young travelers from the 22 countries eligible for working holiday visas to Australia and the chance to earn Australian dollars while visiting and offering tourism product to match budgets are just some of the strategies being used.
Strong growth of Chinese visitors to Australia and the potential for ongoing growth from Chinese travelers is likely, but Australian tourism planners are working to diversify the source of visitors to Australia especially from the growing economies of Southeast Asia, Taiwan, and Korea. Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, addressing the inaugural Tourism Directions Conference in Canberra in November 2010, made the important point that the key to attracting tourism growth from China and other Asian countries was the extension of a genuinely warm welcome and extending a positive experience so that the returning tourists would recommend visits from their friends and family. This axiomatic point should apply to all destinations, as repeat and referral business from satisfied visitors remains the most effective destination marketing tool.
The author, David Beirman, is a Senior Lecturer in tourism at the University of Technology, Sydney.