Best Job, But Did It Mean Best Arrivals?
By Yeoh Siew Hoon
Monday, 21st June 2010
Perhaps it all started with Tourism Queensland's 'Best Job In The World' but of late, Australian tourism has seen a bubbling forth of social media-driven campaigns. ( www.islandreefjob.com )

There's Tourism Australia's "Nothing Like Australia" new branding campaign which asked citizens to submit entries for a competition. Then there's Western Australia's "Extraordinary Taxi Ride" in which couples enter a competition and win holidays where they travel round the state in a taxi.

A bit of a gimmick, really. Travelling round this largest of Australian states in a taxi would command an extraordinary budget but the couples have to blog about their trips and so this creates hopefully interesting content which every tourism board covets.

The question Queensland's tourism industry is asking though is while the "Best Job In The World" campaign has been extraordinarily successful in generating publicity and hype, has it delivered on tourism numbers?

Cairns in the Far North is still wilting from the worst tourism slump ever to hits its shores. Last month, the Courier Mail carried a report on "Even sex industry feels slump as brothel closes in Cairns".

The report stated that Cairns marked its first dip in record high unemployment in eight months after peaking as one of the nation's highest jobless regions at 13.8%.

It quoted Cairns brothel keeper Aart Brons, the sole surviving legal operator: "When brothels are doing it tough the rest of the economy is in hard times," he said. "It might be luxury spending for some, but for some single young men so is eating and drinking."

The downturn in the Japanese market, the lack of direct international flights and the effects of the global financial crisis took their toll on tourism numbers. In 2009, international visitors to the Far North fell by 106,000 last year with their spending dropping by nearly A$200 million to A$813 million.

Figures from the 2009 International Visitor Survey released in March showed a 14% drop in numbers to 651,000, the biggest fall among destinations in Queensland. Expenditure dropped 19% by $194 million to $813 million.

Hoteliers based in Cairns that WIT spoke to at the recent Australian Tourism Exchange lamented poor occupancies and weakening rates and agreed that while the "Best Job" campaign had been great in generating publicity, they were uncertain if it had directly resulted in people coming to the state for a holiday.

Anthony Hayes, CEO of Tourism Queensland, is aware of such concerns and said the board was working hard to convert the publicity generated into sales. "In the end, it's all about sales."

According to Hayes, the campaign has generated A$420 million worth of publicity in the key source markets. "We are now running a heap of sales campaigns – best honeymoon, best adventure – and get the tactical offers out there," he said.

He said it was difficult to track actual visitor arrivals to the campaign but the state, as a whole, was seeing some growth and market share has been increasing.

"We are still conservative on growth though, the market is still tough out there."

One market he's excited about – as with every state in Australia – is China. At ATE, he announced the launch of thrice-weekly Guangzhou-Brisbane flights by China Southern, starting November.

"China has been amazing. We saw 15% growth last year and we forecast that we will receive 350,000 Chinese visitors this year and in 10 years, this number will go up to 800,000."

In 2009, a total of 153,000 Chinese visitors visited Queensland, a 15% rise. In the Far North, Chinese numbers were 41,000, a 41% increase.

Hayes said China would eclipse Japan as Queensland's biggest market and that Queensland was also getting 50% of the Chinese market coming to Australia "and that's without direct flights".

In focusing its attention on China, Hayes said he would take two lessons from the Japanese experience.

"One, that the Chinese market is not just about group travel and duty free shopping but is also a high yield market, with different segments like couples, families and government travel.

"Two, not to put all eggs in one basket and be over-reliant on one market."

At about 800,000 visitors a year, Japan formed more than 50% of the market and when the source slowed down, "it showed us we were too reliant on one market," said Hayes.

Brisbane, because of direct flight access, has been faring better. In 2009, overseas visitors to Queensland topped 1.968 million, a four percent drop while expenditure fell $168 million to $3.883 million. Brisbane and the Gold Coast increased their share of tourists with 913,000 and 813,000, both up two percent.

Hayes said AirAsia X's flights from Kuala Lumpur to the Coast have been "unbelievable".  "It's changed the entire nature of the South-east Asian market and reignited our appeal in South-east Asia."

He is now looking at direct flights to Cairns. "It's a challenge. The last 12 months have been difficult. It's not a drive market, more a flight market."

And what's next after "The Best Job In The World?" How do you top a campaign like that? "We are working on the next big idea – watch out for it next year," said Hayes.

Yeoh Siew Hoon, one of Asia's most respected travel editors and commentators, writes a regular column on news, trends and issues in the hospitality industry for 4Hoteliers.com.

Siew Hoon, who has covered the tourism industry in Asia/Pacific for the past 20 years, runs SHY Ventures Pte Ltd. Her other writings can be found at thetransitcafe.com. Get your weekly cuppa of news, gossip, humour and opinion at the cafe for travel insiders.

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