New Research and Initiatives at the Tourism Australia L.A. Summit

Dixon: U.S. market is ‘critical to our tourism future.’
Dixon: U.S. market is ‘critical to our tourism future.’

Australia is perceived as a safe and beautiful destination but it remains only an aspirational trip for most U.S. travelers. That’s what a deep-dive consumer research project indicates, according to executives at Tourism Australia presenting at the G’Day USA 2014 - Australia Tourism Summit in Los Angeles.

“While Australia ranks at the top of many Americans’ dream destination lists, there is also an apparent lack of urgency to visit, with distance, time and cost often cited as barriers,” said Geoff Dixon, chairman of  Tourism Australia in his opening address at the two-day conference.

The research presented is part of Australia’s “Tourism 2020” plan, which calls for doubling the value of overnight tourism to Australia by 2020. The data will serve to refine Tourism Australia’s marketing messaging throughout the world, and specifically in the U.S.

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Three years into the plan, Dixon said positive results are already evident. In 2013, Australia welcomed 6.4 million visitors, who contributed to more than $28 billion in expenditures to the economy.

The U.S. market is viewed as one with particular potential, worth as much as $5.5 billion annually by 2020. It’s Australia’s fourth largest market for visitors, third for expenditures and fifth for visitor nights. It’s a market that’s also got some momentum in that it’s back to record levels not seen since the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

“That’s a good indicator of why we regard it as critical to our tourism future,” said Dixon. The target U.S. customer is one who is considered to be affluent and age 45-plus.

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In presenting consumer research findings to the audience of tour operators, destination markets and suppliers who work with Australia, Jane Whitehead, vice president, the Americas, pointed out that Australia is known for having spectacular nature but continues to be less strong associated with key drivers for affluent travelers, such as food and wine, and history.

Whitehead: Lack of familiarity poses ‘a challenge to conversion.’
Whitehead: Lack of familiarity poses 'a challenge to conversion.'

“Amongst some of the people who haven’t traveled to Australia, familiarity with what Australia offers, the range and richness of experiences, is more limited, and that continues to pose a challenge to conversion,” said Whitehead. Also, those who said they were not planning to go to Australia over the next four years cited expensive airfares as a key factor, and, to a lesser extent, the length of the flight.

Australia ranked high by respondents who haven’t traveled there on its world-class beauty and safety and security. Areas it has improved on slightly include food and wine, value for money, luxury accommodation, and suitability as a romantic destination.

Over the past 12 months, Tourism Australia, in all of its marketing communications, has been trying to showcase the breadth of unique experiences that Australia offers, said Whitehead, noting that there is still a large gap in perceptions of the destination between those who have been there and those who haven’t. Rankings in the food and wine category show that gap most prominently. Those who haven’t been rank Australia’s cuisine offerings well behind South America’s, Europe’s and Japan’s, at ninth place. Those who have been to Australia rank it as number one, ahead of those places, including Italy. Contributing to that ranking is the ready access to fresh seafood and great wine regions.

History and heritage shows another large gap: Those who haven’t been there rank it 15th; those who have rank it fourth. Those who have been there also rank Australia number one in terms of “exciting events and festivals.”

Initiatives underway to close the gap for those who have not ventured to Australia include leveraging the “Best of” program, which elevates the profile of some of Australia’s best experiences, through public relations and trade outreach. “Restaurant Australia” is a big focus and highlights not only the country’s food and wine, but its exciting and sophisticated dining venues as well. Other strengths that will continue to be promoted include attractions, natural beauty and Australia’s friendly people.