Tourism Australia has promoted its executive general manager international, Philippa Harrison, to managing director, an appointment that comes as the destination seeks to bolster tourism spend by attracting more higher-spending international arrivals.

Harrison, the first female head at Tourism Australia, has been with national tourism organization for three years. In her previous position at the group, she oversaw a network of international offices spanning 12 countries, as well as managed airline relationships and distribution channels.

She held the acting managing director role for seven months following the resignation of John O’Sullivan who left to join Experience Co, an Australian-listed adventures provider.

Harrison said the opportunity to lead Tourism Australia is “a career high.”

“This is a period of change, challenge and opportunity for our industry,” she said in a statement. “With competition for the global travel wallet and the demands of the international traveller ever increasing and both global and Australian tourism facing a number of significant headwinds, the need for a strong, cohesive and united industry has never been greater.

“My focus is very much on making sure that Tourism Australia continues to lead from the front, through creative and high impact marketing but also through the important distribution and partnership platforms we provide to industry.”

Significant Headwinds

International arrivals to Down Under are expected to grow at a more moderate rate through 2028-29, warned Tourism Forecasts 2019 released by Tourism Research Australia on September 6.

The government tourism research agency attributes this to “a weakening international economic outlook, the U.S.-China trade tensions and Brexit uncertainty in the short term.”

On the positive side however, the lower Australian dollar will help Australian destinations stay competitive, it said. As well, the agency expects increases in aviation capacity and accommodation supply to drive growth of international arrivals.

According to Tourism Australia Research figures, Australia received 8.5 million foreign arrivals in the year ending March 2019, a 3 percent increase over fiscal 2018. Spending rose 5 percent to $30.5 billion (A$44.3 billion).

China remained Australia’s leading tourism market, with numbers increasing a modest 3 percent to 1.3 million visitors, although spending by tourists on trips rose 10 percent to $8.3 billion (A$12 billion).

India posted the strongest growth, with visitor numbers up 15 percent to 343,000 and trip spending jumping 12 percent to reach a record $1.2 billion (A$1.7 billion).

Traditional Western markets such as the UK, however, were soft, down 4 percent to 673,000 visitors, while U.S. visitation returned mixed results. Visitor numbers remained steady at 750,000, but room nights fell by 8 percent to 13.1 million.

Subdued Domestic Market

Meanwhile, “more subdued” domestic overnight trips through to 2028-29 is also in the works. The reasons cited include low wage growth, which affects consumption growth. What’s more, high gas prices and airfares are dampening demand, while a lower Australian dollar is resulting in some Australians choosing overseas trips than domestic ones, according to Tourism Research Australia.

However, the emergence of Airbnb and other competitors is a plus, increasing choice, reducing prices, and contributing to the growth of domestic overnight trips, it said.

In the year ending March 2019, the agency recorded 109 million overnight domestic visitors, an increase of 10 percent, spending $51.2 billion (A$74.5 billion), an increase of 14 percent.

In the long run, however, it forecasts that 40 percent of tourism spending by 2028-2029 will come from international travelers.

The Australian Tourism Export Council, a body that advocates for policies that strengthen tourism’s future, described Harrison’s appointment as “fantastic.”

“Pip [as she is known] has always been recognized as a leader with extensive hands-on experience across several facets of the tourism industry and this puts her in good stead to lead the industry into the next decade of its growth,” said the council’s managing director Peter Shelley. “It’s this understanding of the industry that will underpin her role as the person responsible for getting cut through for Australia in the global tourism marketplace.”

“The [tourism] industry will continue to grow at a much faster rate [5 percent] than the overall Australian economy [2.8 percent]. It highlights both the opportunities and the changes in our key inbound markets expected in coming years,” he added.

“Phillipa has made an enormous contribution in her three years at Tourism Australia,” said Tourism Australia Chairman Bob East. “She has great support in the industry and I am confident that Tourism Australia is in the best of hands.”

Photo Credit: Philippa Harrison, Tourism Australia's first female chief. Tourism Australia