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A national tourism campaign that takes risks will travel well for Australia

In a symbolic move, Tourism Australia chose Shanghai to launch its new “There’s Nothing Like Australia” campaign. The classic advertising imagery returns us to the pre-Hogan era, before Paul invited prospective visitors to “put another shrimp on the barbie”. The sumptuous imagery and commissioned soundtrack backing features the Opera House, Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef, koalas and kangaroos. It’s splendid - albeit traditional - fare.

But the jury’s verdict is distinctly 21st century, with measurements such as favourable Twitter commentary, page views of the advertisement (4 million during the first week in China alone) and downloads of the interactive app. The verdict has been positive to date, with the campaign setting China’s social media ablaze and pleasing the industry. The Shanghai launch was clearly well received and generated welcome political capital, given that China will be the world’s largest tourism generating and receiving country by 2020.

A new campaign does not spark a surge of tourism arrivals into Australia irrespective of the inflated expectations which often accompany a launch. And though advertising is highly visible, service quality and infrastructure are equally important aspects of destination attractiveness and competitiveness. However, the campaign imagery is a “grand narrative” which informs our view of ourselves and how we would like the rest of the world to imagine us. It’s an opportunity to reflect on what’s old and what’s new in Australia’s pitch to the world of the Asian Century.

Though the Gold Coast is featured in the campaign, glitzy Queensland resorts are out. Instead, there are panoramic shots of contemporary boutique-style accommodation adjoining some of the country’s most pristine settings: Freycinet in Tasmania, Kangaroo Island in South Australia and Wolgan Valley in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales. The global trend towards more “experiential” tourism is prevalent. Instead of being spectators at a cultural performance, prospective visitors are invited to interact and engage – with Aboriginal kids in a waterhole, swimming with turtles or encountering sea-lions on the beach. The landscape is personalised, prompting a desire and aspiration to discover and experience Australia’s diversity.

National tourism campaigns are highly susceptible to the political cycle (shadow immigration spokesman Scott Morrison is a former Tourism Australia CEO). While overt political interference is rare, incoming governments often make hasty changes of direction to inform stakeholders and the electorate that “something is being done”. The more successful campaigns avoid the posturing and gain bipartisan support, thereby overcoming the risk of re-formulation when the next government takes office. Victoria’s award winning “jigsaw campaign” - “You’ll love every piece of Victoria” was launched by a Kennett Coalition Government and remains in place over two decades later, approved by governments of different political persuasions. They backed apparently “crazy” ideas like a giant ball of red wool, black and white photography and music outside the mainstream. Longevity has provided tourism authorities - in this case Tourism Victoria - with a secure base to experiment and take risks. It allows a balance to be maintained between the strategic and the tactical.

Prior to the current campaign, the only constant at national level appears to have been inconsistency. Who recalls the short-lived “Australia in a Different Light” campaign? It was dumped prematurely to make way for the “Where the Bloody Hell are you?” initiative featuring celebrity Lara Bingle. This was, in turn, discontinued and replaced by stop-gaps: Baz Luhrmann’s “Australia” and the Oprah Winfrey initiative. The tourism industry was sometimes bemused and often aghast.

Meanwhile, international education accelerated ahead of inbound tourism as an income generator and key source markets such as Japan went into recession. So it is a relief that “There’s no place like Australia” has been refreshed and continued. This is consistent with the “long view” espoused by Tourism Australia CEO Andrew McEvoy, who advocates thinking towards 2020 targets and has successfully balanced the interests of industry, the Commonwealth and the states.

With its familiar imagery, is the current campaign sufficiently radical to attract attention and convert this interest into bookings? Will the narrative generate enough curiosity amongst viewers of the advertisement to search the next level of the campaign website which features enticing material about each states and territories? This remains to be seen, though the images must be particularly enticing to prospective travellers in Asian megacities where space and clean air is at a premium. Perhaps there could have been more emphasis on visitor interests than featuring places – a perennial conundrum in tourism marketing.

But managing the politics of six states and two territories is complex. To date, the industry and the states and territories are lining up behind Tourism Australia to praise the campaign. This is a considerable achievement at a time when the tone of federal politics is shrill and partisan.

With a high Australian dollar and investment urgently needed, tourism is struggling to stay competitive. In this environment, it is encouraging that risk-taking or not, there’s enough focus on China and the Asian century and on the Twittersphere to give destination Australia a fighting chance in a challenging international marketplace. If “There’s Nothing Like Australia” is strong enough to stick around for two decades like its Victorian counterpart, the time may come for a resurgence of some sustainable risk-taking.

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