Anthony Hayes – CEO of Tourism Queensland, and Wendy Harch – Executive Director International of Tourism Queensland share with us why Queensland is the perfect holiday destination for everyone.
What are your roles and responsibilities as CEO and Executive Director International of Tourism Queensland respectively?
Anthony: Our job involves anything and everything. We are responsible for marketing Queensland to the world and the rest of Australia. We work closely with the local travel industry to develop new products and look for new opportunities that perhaps have not been touched before. The Australian government provides us with a significant fund for marketing and development initiatives and we look after our shareholder by creating innovative and effective strategies to attract more visitors to Queensland. Overall, it is a very exciting and satisfying business.
Wendy: My role focuses specifically on the international market. The objective is to bring as many international visitors into Queensland as possible. First, we have to create the awareness and accessibility through our network around the globe. We have 8 Regional Directors based in key markets that report to the head office in Brisbane.
Queensland’s top five largest international markets are New Zealand, Japan, United Kingdom, United States and China. When you look at the forecast however, India and China are the two markets chosen by economists with the strongest growth potential. Our job is to build and strengthen the right relationships to turn these forecasts into reality.
What is the potential from the Indian market and what do you expect to achieve from this visit?
Anthony: The potential is almost limitless. We’re only just beginning. There were about 125000 Indian visitors to Australia in 2009 of which about 35000 were holidaymakers. India is a significant market but it is still quite small in comparison to where it can eventually be. The huge potential for the holiday market to grow is very exciting and fortunately Queensland is the quintessential holiday state.
There is a huge opportunity for us over the long term if we strengthen the relationships today. We invite members of the tourism industry to Queensland so they can experience for themselves what we have to offer. We also bring members of the Queensland tourism industry to India to meet with agents and wholesalers. We are building good solid relationships and we are doing it together.
Anthony joined Tourism Queensland in 2005 after a long tenure with Qantas and Wendy has been with Tourism Queensland for 15 years. How has tourism to Queensland evolved during your tenure in terms of products and trends?
Anthony: Between global financial crises and flu epidemics, I don’t think I could have chosen a more challenging time to take the helm. But I think entering a tough situation like that gives you the opportunity to step back and see if the way we have always been doing things still works for us or if we need to evolve. It has given us a chance to be more creative and more aggressive and to try new things which haven’t been tried before.
For example, the Best Job in the World campaign was specifically designed to introduce the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef to the world. We felt there was almost zero awareness of our islands in the international market place. People certainly know about the reef, but we felt there was a brilliant opportunity to introduce the world to our island experiences. It was a good opportunity to try something different in terms of making an impact instead of the usual line of action. The campaign hinged on the concept of a ‘big idea’ and was followed up by a series of sales campaigns. As the awareness and interest grew, the product was ready to be presented to the consumer. In the end, the campaign received over AUD 400 million worth of publicity and over 8.5 million hits on our website. I think it is safe to say that the goal of awareness was achieved in totality.
Wendy: I have always been involved in tourism. Before joining Tourism Queensland, I worked for a Japanese inbound operator on the Gold Coast. Tourism is about the destination and informing people about the variety of activities to do when visiting. We always strive to come up with new products as well as innovative ways of presenting the classic products. One thing is for sure: tourism gets into your blood and it is very hard to leave once you’ve been bitten.
What are the travel experiences available in Queensland which are different from the rest of Australia?
Wendy: The great thing about Queensland is the variety of different products available. There is truly a holiday for every type of person. Brisbane provides brilliant nightlife and shopping opportunities. Cairns is the gateway to the Daintree Rainforest which is more than 135 million years old making it the oldest rainforest in the world. In fact, it contains the highest number of plant and animal species that are rare or threatened with extinction anywhere in the world. And of course, the islands of the Great Barrier Reef undoubtedly provide the most extraordinary experiences for families, couples and adventurers.
Anthony: I don’t think Australia is just about lying on the beach and watching the sunset. Of course that experience is available in abundance, but I doubt Indians will visit Australia just to do that. I am sure they would rather experience Australian culture and share our lifestyle. It is a different way of living for a few days and that is what makes a holiday more pleasing and memorable.
What were the challenges faced by Tourism Queensland during the recent economic decline and how were they dealt with?
Anthony: We are still facing the challenges of the economic decline. It is fair to say that the market has not picked up anywhere near to where it had been previously. We are in for a challenging 6 to 12 months ahead. We need to be realistic about the financial situation and certainly also the recent negative press Australia has had in India. The relationship between India and Australia must be strengthened, especially in the face of recent tragic events.
The cultural links between India and Australia are so strong. The opportunities for a stronger relationship are obvious. Despite the challenges, we have to keep our eye on the long term goal. We know that within the next 10 years, the growth will be fantastic.
The goal is to structure ourselves today to be prepared for the future. This includes establishing our products and relationships with the travel industry, setting up training programmes for staff, developing partnership marketing with airlines and even establishing a digital strategy.
How has digital marketing played a role in increasing awareness and accessibility to Tourism Queensland and its products?
Anthony: The Best Job in the World was primarily a digital campaign which certainly got the desired message out effectively and more importantly, cost-effectively. Anyone who doesn’t think that digital marketing is the future is fooling themselves. It is a cost-effective and efficient way to spread your message. The Best Job in the World was just a simple way of saying to the world, “Hey, did you know that we have all these amazing islands in Queensland?” We are now seeing a fantastic increase in bookings to the islands because that message was shared effectively.
We will certainly continue to work with social media and other avenues of digital peer review. The effects are staggering. It would be easy for us to publish an advertisement with pictures and content chosen by us, but social media is about you experiencing something for yourself and then sharing it with your friends. It is much more genuine. If someone returns from a holiday and genuinely says that they had a fantastic time in Queensland, that has much more credibility than a traditional advertisement.
Now that you have attained a high level of consumer interest in the Islands, how do you plan to convert this into increased visits?
Anthony: After raising over AUD 400 million in publicity and receiving about 8.5 million hits on our website during the campaign, we are more than happy with the fantastic results. But if it doesn’t translate into the eventual selling of the product, the project would not be a complete success.
We have seen however that in some destinations such as Hamilton Island, sales have increased by 25% versus last year. Some of our smaller operators have seen their sales increase by 80%. We are even finding that some of these operators are getting their first bookings from India. The numbers have been very positive in spite of it being a tough year. In 2010, we hope to reap the benefits of our planning and hard work.
Are you planning similar campaigns for other Queensland products?
Anthony: We definitely will not repeat the same concept such as the Best Job in the World Part 2. We doubt it would be as effective as the original. We have seen other people copy the concept and it didn’t work out too well for them.
Regardless, we are always working on the next ‘big idea.’ Our board has recently approved a project that we are currently laying down the foundation for. Will it be as big as the last one? We don’t know, but we have to try.
We are looking at a launch in the beginning of 2011. It may seem like the very distant future, but given the amount of work involved with these big ideas, earlier is always better. Such projects require tremendous planning and preparation.
Tourism Queensland employs about 145 people around the world. Consequently, every one of us is a multi-tasker. And fortunately because we are a relatively small group of people, when a big idea takes off, we are flexible enough to mobilize everyone towards a common goal – which was one of the reasons for the success of the Best Job in the World campaign. If you’re on a winner, you should ride the wave.
Which are the key global markets for Tourism Queensland and what are the strategies for 2010?
Wendy: We do have our top five markets and they will continue to be very important. But we also see massive potential from other countries. The real opportunity for us is to look at the growth markets and India is certainly at the top of the list. It is very exciting for us to be here and lay the foundation for stronger relationships in the future – not just for the next 12 months, which is very important, but also for the long haul.
Anthony is also a board member of Queensland Events Corporation. What are some of the popular events taking place in Queensland?
Anthony: We wish we were hosting the IPL next year. That would be fantastic. But the majority of events taking place in Queensland are currently more suited for the domestic market than the global or Indian markets. One of the biggest events this year is the Ashes cricket tournament where we expect over 20000 people to visit Brisbane, many of them from England. It is one of the best examples of how an event can complement tourism. As the brilliant cricket rivalry between India and Australia continues to grow, we would love to see thousands of Indian tourists accompany the Indian cricket team.
Which are your favourite holiday destinations in Queensland?
Wendy: My last two holidays have been on the Gold Coast. Everything I want is nearby and it is a great destination for kids. It is perfect for a relaxing family holiday. You can stay in an apartment with your own kitchen and cooking facilities. If your kids are tired or hungry, you can maintain the comfort and convenience of home. And of course, the theme parks on the Gold Coast are fantastic. The cliché rings true again that there is something for everyone. If dad wants to play golf and mom wants to go shopping, everything is possible. Dining options are also full of variety. There are even numerous Indian restaurants. The Gold Coast is simply a very fun and convenient destination for a family holiday.
Anthony: My last holiday was at Noosa on the Sunshine Coast. It is a very different experience from the Gold Coast. It is much more about the natural landscapes and local dining. My son and I like to go for bush walks and look for wildlife. At certain times of the year, the whale watching is absolutely amazing along the coast. As I mentioned earlier, I feel a holiday is not about lying on a beach all day, but about truly experiencing your surroundings.
Lastly, your message to readers:
Wendy: We take the Indian market very seriously. We recognize and respect the fact that there are many people here who will continue to be very important partners. We are building these relationships for the long haul.
Anthony: It has been a difficult six months with recent tragic events weighing on people’s minds when considering travelling to Australia. It is my belief that the more tourism exchange we foster, the more we will be able to understand each other’s cultures and constrain racism and ignorance. It is an old cliché, but beyond the business, there is a greater goal of building bridges and sharing each other’s cultures and treasures.