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International visitors to Australia spent a record $34.8 billion in the 12 months ending September 30, 2015—up 13% or $4.1 billion—marking the highest jump in total inbound traveler spend since 2001. Visitor spending from the U.S. was up 14%.
A significant factor behind that increase was due to Tourism Australia’s concerted push toward luxury travel marketing in recent years, which was on full display at the Pure Life Experiences hospitality conference in Marrakech last month. Among all of the countries participating in the buyer/supplier trade show, Australia brought the largest contingent of high-end travel companies, including both hotels and tour operators.
Most noticeably, there was an even breadth of geographical locations represented in the western and northern regions, beyond the mainstream Sydney, Melbourne, and Great Barrier Reef corridor.
“The product in Australia over the last five years has exploded in terms of premium offerings, and from our customers’ perspective, they’re seeing an increase in demand for luxury Australian experiences as well,” said Katherine Droga, GM, global distribution development for Tourism Australia. “So it’s kind of a perfect storm because we now have the product and the consumer demand, and every one of the partners here is talking about how they’re bringing an authentic, bespoke travel experience to life.”
Aligned Behind Restaurant Australia
The double-digit percentage increase in international visitor spending in Australia during the last fiscal year can be attributed to four primary factors.
1. Tourism Australia’s “There’s Nothing Like Australia” marketing campaign positions the entire country as a luxury destination by emphasizing different aspects of sophisticated local culture, such as upscale dining experiences. The culinary component of the strategy officially kicked off in May 2014 with the worldwide “Restaurant Australia” campaign, at which time Australia was not perceived worldwide as a foodie destination.
Tourism Australia partnered with The Precinct Studios to create the 3-part Restaurant Australia television series to promote modern Australian cuisine. Multiple other content projects based on collaborations with well known international chefs and local culinary stars are also helping drive exposure.
For example, chef Rene Redzepi closed his Noma restaurant in Copenhagen to open a pop-up Noma in Sydney from January 26 through April 2. All of the available 5,600 seats selling for $340 per diner for the 10-week run sold out in 90 seconds on October 30.
Since the Restaurant Australia campaign’s inception, international visitor spend on food and beverage is up 16.6%.
2. Everyone in the Australia tourism sector seems to be on point. That ranges from government leaders, such as the Minister for Tourism pushing out his own media releases and tweeting, to small luxury lodges spanning the most remote regions of the country collaborating together on marketing partnerships.
That synergy is somewhat of a benchmark for collaboration between private and public sectors in destination promotion. Tourism Australia’s standalone corporate site is more comprehensive than almost any other tourism bureau’s out there, on par with the likes of VisitEngland, which goes a long way to rallying all of the destination partners around a unified story.
3. Tourism Australia and many of the destinations and hotels are aggressively incorporating indigenous communities into their brand storytelling and product programming. Australia basically has a built-in, one-of-a-kind, established “local” experience that differentiates it from other destinations in the Asia/Pacific market, and everyone is tapping into that.
Read our Skift story covering the “Aboriginal Australia” marketing initiative revolving around different culinary experiences integrating indigenous culture.
4. There’s been a surge of new luxury accommodation product entering the market over the last roughly six to seven years. According to Tourism Australia, there is $16 billion worth of tourism projects under development in the country presently, with another $12 billion proposed.
Australian Minister of Trade & Investment Andrew Robb was quoted earlier this year saying that Australia needs to open 16 new 5-star hotels per year through 2020 to welcome the rise in global visitor interest, especially from the growing Chinese and Indian markets.
He said, “For the first time in history we’re at the center of things, and not as Paul Keating [Prime Minister 1991-96] said, down at the arse end of the world.”
Aquatic & Coastal Australia
Building on the success of the Restaurant Australia campaign, Tourism Australia is keeping with the culinary theme, but pivoting the focus slightly, with the launch next month of the $30 million Aquatic & Coastal Australia marketing campaign.
This week at Dreamtime Australia, the country’s primary travel trade conference, Tourism Australia is heavily promoting the new BBC special focusing on the impact of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef. It’s scheduled to run over the Christmas holidays, and the tourism bureau is using that as a sort of thematic launch pad for the Aquatic & Coastal messaging.
By highlighting the country’s coastal areas in particular, which include almost all of the major visitor destinations anyway, Tourism Australia can promote both the major cities and the emerging luxury lifestyle resorts and their less-traveled regions. Many of the 23 Australian suppliers attending PURE accounted for the latter.
For example, the Luxury Lodges of Australia is a marketing coalition of 18 small resort accommodations and one 18-cabin luxury yacht. Booking options range from Cape Lodge south of Perth to Lord Howe Island located 450 miles northeast off the coast of Sydney.
Penny Rafferty, executive officer of Luxury Lodges of Australia, told Skift that the common element among all of the members is the experiential travel element specific to that location. She added that Australia’s focus on luxury wouldn’t have been possible even a few years ago due to the lack of properties like these.
“Ten years ago, more than half of these lodges didn’t exist, and most of them were built brand new, so Australia hasn’t really had these types of luxury experiences before,” she said. “That’s why the perception of Australia didn’t align with the luxury market before 2010.”
In terms of shifting consumer demographics, Rafferty said she’s seeing a surprising volume of millennial guests who are drawn to aspirational travel, as well as older travelers seeking something new outside of the major cities.
In terms of new developments, the Luxury Lodges website launched a new section with third-party media placements highlighting the destinations where the lodges operate.
“The right storytelling appeals to any age and all travel preferences,” explained Rafferty. “Among our customers, there’s definitely a sense of ‘I deserve it,’ and they’re prepared to spend their money on experiences over things. I think that represents the sophistication and the maturity cycle of luxury travel today.”
We also spoke with Judith North, who handles European sales for the Saffire Freycinet resort in Tasmania, as well as Luxury Lodges. The beginning of the shift in perception around Australian travel can be tracked back to when this property opened in 2010 with its ultra-modern design, upscale culinary experiences, and middle-of-nowhere location.
Saffire Freycinet’s above photo of guests standing at a table in the water eating oysters harvested from a few feet away has become the de facto signature image of the Aquatic & Coastal campaign.
“That’s one of our favorite events, and you know those oysters are definitely fresh,” North said. “It’s such a simple and effective way of making a memory.”
North said the U.S. market is “booming at the high end,” and North Americans tend to combine multiple lodges over the course of one trip. “The lodges are all quite small so we really needed to join forces to make an impact from a global standpoint.”
Tourism Australia released the below stats and graphics illustrating the rise in demand for luxury travel and the shift in perception around the destination brand. For more data, see the following Research and Fact Sheet.