Tourism Australia Marketing goes walkabout

By Julian Lee, Media and Marketing Editor, Sydney Morning Herald

IMAGINE if Baz Luhrmann had cast Paul Hogan in the Come Walkabout tourism campaign. If the stressed-out executive played by Sybilla Budd was depicted cavorting in a billabong as Crocodile Dundee looked on.

As she emerges, transformed by the calming experience of the cool waters, there’s Hoges sinking a cold one, the embers of a barbecue adding a warm glow to the scence. “Where the bloody hell have you been,” she asks as he casually tosses another shrimp on the barbie. “Sometimes in order to find yourself you have to get lost.Sometimes you have to go to the pub,” is his reply.

You may laugh but Tourism Australia and its advertising agency, DDB, are planning the “next big ad”, into which just about every cliche of Australia might be shoehorned. Due in June, it is likely to continue the theme of transformation that was at the heart of the film Australia and on which the current campaign is based.

TA’s “strategic review” of Come Walkabout continues, but it has already claimed the ad a success, without citing any evidence other than visitors to its website. (Three years on we have still not been told why its predecessor, Where The Bloody Hell Are You, was a flop.)

With the global tourism market in the doldrums – overseas visitors are forecast to drop by 4 per cent – do we really need to have a one-size-fits-all ad for Australia? Unlike a Mars Bar or McDonald’s, which delivers the same experience the world over, people come to Australia for different reasons. Yes, Luhrmann and TA made two Walkabout ads – one for Westerners and one for Asians – but they deliver the same message that Australia offers a transformative experience.

This week TA said it had lost almost a third of its marketing budget due to a fall in the Aussie dollar. International travellers are looking for shorter breaks and their budgets are unlikely to run to expensive trips to the bush. Now is not the time to have another stab at creating a brand for Australia as a tourist destination. It is the time for getting more bums on seats.

But TA is ploughing on so that Australia “remains top of mind for when consumer confidence to travel returns”, the managing director, Geoff Buckley, said by email after declining an interview.

It has no plans to divert its $40 million media spend to those countries that are holding up better than others, but will push ahead with the scattergun approach of targeting 20 countries, even as airlines like Qantas pull out of markets.

New Zealand, our biggest market, for example, gets just 4 per cent of its ad budget. The United States, where travellers are benefiting from a price war between Qantas, Virgin and United Airlines, 12 per cent.

The tourism body appears to have all but given up on Japan, where a meagre $1 million has been allocated for the Walkabout campaign. Nearly 10 per cent of its ad budget has been allocated for Australia, reinforcing the view that the industry is looking to Australians to pick up the slack during the recession. The “rest of the world” eats up 22 per cent, or $8.6 million, of that budget.

“Our role is to drive demand for Australia, and in challenging times you go back to basics – the emotional truth about your product,” says Buckley. But it’s a country, Geoff, not a Mars Bar.

Travel Trends, courtesy Sydney Morning Herald, February 19, 2009

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