Could a 'Clive-zilla' help sell Australia?

Tourism figures show Australia's global ranking is falling, and billions of dollars in economic benefits are being missed, due to lack of political attention to the sector.

A $20 billion pipeline of Chinese investments in Australian tourism projects is great news for the Abbott government at a time when it badly needs economic growth to replace easing activity in the resources sector.

And unlike other parts of the ‘five pillars’ plan the Coalition took to the 2013 election, it would take a special kind of incompetence to stuff up this sector (tourism is one of the five ‘services’ pillars, with the other four being manufacturing, agriculture, education and research, and mining).

But that is an important point, given that we’ve seen such incompetence once before.

In 2006 M&C Saatchi created a major global marketing campaign for Tourism Australia featuring Lara Bingle asking the world “where the bloody hell are you?”

The resounding reply was “stepping onto a plane headed somewhere else”.

Though the $180 million campaign was initially hailed as a success, it quickly dawned on the incoming Rudd government that numbers of tourists coming to Australia had fallen and ‘Brand Australia’ was flagging in the global tourism stakes.

From being the ‘most valuable country brand’ in the world in 2008, it gradually slipped to sixth place by 2012-13 in the FutureBrand Country Brand Index.

Without Bingle-style blunder, however, the structural forces driving Australian tourism make continued growth virtually assured.

Assured, yes, but we could do much better. The industry thinks another major marketing push is needed – not so much in the Bingle mold, but more in line with the highly effective Paul Hogan ‘put another shrimp on the barbie’ campaign that ran between 1984 and 1990.

But who could dazzle overseas audiences with Hogan’s understated humour?

Clive Palmer, perhaps, saying he’ll slip another dozen shrimps on the barbie?

Or how about Scott Morrison wading ashore on a beach asking “Where the bloody hell are your papers?”

Perhaps not.

But something must be done, according to the industry. A study released last month found that for each dollar spent on marketing Australia as a tourism destination, up to $16 would be added to the Australian economy.

Moreover, failing to ramp up our marketing efforts will see Australia fall even lower down the international league tables, according to the industry’s peak body, the Tourism and Transport Forum.

The forum is worried that the ‘Tourism 2020’ strategy agreed to by state and federal governments in 2011, needs strengthening on the marketing side.

TTF said last week that “Australia is missing out on billions in additional economic benefit, with new figures showing visitor spending is tracking below the bottom end of the Tourism 2020 targets”.

TTF acting chief executive Trent Zimmerman said: “A business as usual approach to tourism is simply not enough to reach the Tourism 2020 targets ...

“Additional government investment in tourism marketing is required to ensure Australia does not lose market share to countries that have not only recognised tourism’s potential to drive economic activity, create jobs and provide future prosperity, but have invested in tourism marketing and the infrastructure required to make that happen.”

The industry also wants to see a dedicated tourism minister, as was the case under Labor.

The portfolio currently falls to minister for trade and investment Andrew Robb, but the pressures of that role saw him miss a major industry conference in early July to attend meetings in Beijing -- leaving industry figures furious that another minister was not at least sent in his place.

That was an obvious oversight for an industry estimated to add around $82 billion to the economy at present, and one that with the right support had the potential to double in nominal value between 2010 and 2020 (see chart below).


Graph for Could a 'Clive-zilla' help sell Australia?

Marketing initiatives of recent years have not had the cut-through of the legendary Hoges ads, but despite its detractors, the film ‘Australia’ by Baz Luhrmann provided the launch pad for a fairly successful ‘Come walkabout’ campaign by Tourism Australia in 2008.

Because it piggy-backed on the movie, that campaign did significantly better on the PR side than on the advertising side – it cost just $0.28 to reach 1,000 people via the global PR campaign, compared with $1.50 to reach the same number via paid advertising.

Is there a moral in that story? Is it worth ramping up advertising without launching a hit movie at the same time?

Both Paul Hogan’s ‘Crocodile Dundee’ in 1986 and Luhrmann’s ‘Australia’ in 2008 broke box office records in the US.

So do we need a new hit movie to get things moving again?

‘Clive-zilla and the PUPs that ate Canberra’ might just do it.

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