THE overused cliché that ‘a good marketer can sell anything’ is being put to the test by the state’s key tourism authority Tourism Queensland.

Continued economic factors already had Tourism Queensland (TQ) facing a momentous task in revitalising visitation to the Sunshine State before January’s events which, as CEO Anthony Hayes puts it, ‘splashed images of devastation and natural disasters in media across the globe’.

As a result, an additional $10 million was pumped into TQ coffers by the federal and state governments, resulting in the knee-jerk Nothing Beats Queensland domestic and international promotional blitz.

Starting with last October’s launch of Where Australia Shines and most recently the new Million Dollar Memo business incentives competition, TQ has launched more than $20 million to fund the multiyear marketing strategies in the last six months.

Hayes makes no apologies for the spending; highlighting that spreading the message to as many market segments as possible is the only viable turnaround strategy.

Critics have been quick to chastise TQ for trying to ‘sell the unsellable’ with the typical taxpayer-funded ‘sun, surf and sand’ television adverts and fruitless slogans, but no one can accuse the organisation of sitting on its hands.

“Last year’s new tourism brand will be in place for 10 years and none of the new initiatives have any impact on that,” says Hayes.

“We were very grateful for the additional funding to implement the Nothing Beats Queensland campaign, which is essential to let the rest of the country and the whole world know that Queensland is open for business.

“Despite the devastating images projected to the whole world, the reality is that the key tourism destinations have not been affected and we need to do all we can to ensure tourism operators have a decent Easter period.

“The Million Dollar Memo initiative was developed specifically to increase the number of business incentive travellers to Queensland. This is a very lucrative market that is essential to the tourism recovery.

“We’ve also allocated $2 million a year for events marketing, which similarly brings higher-than-average spending tourists into the state.”

Newly appointed State Tourism Minister Jan Jarratt secured funding and implemented the $2 million ‘industry resilience package’.

The initiative sees the State Government educate a number of small tourism operators in how to leverage online marketing techniques to offer better customer-value.

The figure seems miniscule compared with the dollars thrown into global marketing strategies, but Jarratt says ‘it’s an excellent start’.

“We’ve been helping tourism operators understand the power that they have at their own fingertips and perhaps reduce that reliance on mass marketing campaigns to drive their customers,” she says.

“There has already been some great results from our work with the industry. One example saw a boost in activity for a day-cruise operator in the Whitsunday’s that teamed up with Wotif in a special promotional package.

“We’re encouraging these industry partnerships and initiatives to increase each operator’s competitive edge. Hopefully people will start to think about postponing overseas trips and staying in Queensland to take advantage of these.”

Tourism Queensland has implemented similar promotional activities, including working with airlines and large cruise operators to offer lower costs and better deals in the domestic market.

At the helm, Hayes has one of the toughest jobs in Queensland, but the affable chief executive understands the stakes. He highlights that the 115,000 tourism-related companies in Queensland are mostly ‘small to micro operators’ who have little reserve capital to market themselves.

The big question remains. What results need to be achieved for TQ to justify its $74 million annual budget.

“We have a variety of success measurements in place that have been approved by the TQ board,” says Hayes.

“The initial one is PR value, measuring positive feedback in the media and that the right messages are getting across. But the ultimate measurement comes down to visitor expenditure.

“My job isn’t to get TQ favourable newspaper articles; it’s to ensure big tourism dollars are being pumped into the Queensland economy. Last year visitor expenditure in Queensland was $15 billion.

“We need to take action to ensure that this doesn’t only increase by the expected 2 to 3 per cent a year, but that we aggressively increase this, so by 2020 it might be $25 billion. And with 225,000 Queenslanders directly and indirectly employed in the tourism sector, we have a responsibility to get it right.”

Gold Coast the star performer

Figures released by Tourism Research Australia show that 2010 was the best year for Gold Coast visitation in a decade.

On the ground level, SME operators will claim the city is a distant shadow of the tourism powerhouse of yesteryear, but the 10.5 per cent increase in total visitation to the Gold Coast during the 2010 calendar year shows strong recovery.

An increase of 1.1 million people meant 11 million tourists visited the Gold Coast last year – a commanding figure given total visitation across the state was around 18 million. Furthermore, of the $15 billion tourist expenditure across the state, $4.5 billion was injected on the Gold Coast.

When asked if the Gold Coast is the state’s star performer, Hayes says ‘in a word, yes’.

“Gold Coast Tourism has been very clever. They’ve identified that a huge percentage of their tourists come from South-East Queensland and Northern NSW and hence have marketed strongly into Brisbane and other drive markets,” he says.

Gold Coast Tourism CEO Martin Winter says the figures confirm 2010 was a strong recovery year – but that was then; this is now.

“These numbers are better than just about any other major destination in the country and they are a credit to the continued popularity of the Gold Coast, the positive approach of Gold Coast tourism operators, and the clear positioning of the Gold Coast as offering Australia’s best holiday value and variety,” he says.

“Tourism businesses are operating in an increasingly competitive and challenging industry, but there were certainly some good recovery signs in 2010 particularly in the domestic overnight segment and in our ability to diversify our international source markets to be less reliant on the traditional top one or two.”

Winter recently returned from a trip to Taipei City, Taiwan. In his capacity as president of the International Congress and Convention Association Asia Pacific chapter, he promoted the Gold Coast’s corporate events assets to the key Asian market.

While Chinese and Japanese tourists are driving tourism growth on the international level, Winter is quick to highlight that less than 900,000 of the 15 million Gold Coast tourists last year came from overseas.

“The domestic market remains by far the most important market for the Gold Coast, and that’s where the major challenges are,” says Winter.

“Over the last 10 to 15 years there hasn’t been a great deal of new tourism infrastructure in Queensland, but destinations in the Pacific Islands and Asia have seen large-scale development.

“The high Australian dollar has, and will continue to see Australians take up the low-cost opportunities to travel to Asia and the Pacific rather than domestic locations like the Gold Coast.”

Winter’s message is realistic. He expects more challenges for tourism across Queensland in 2011, but reassures that the Gold Coast is ‘very well positioned’ to weather the storm.

“Gold Coast Tourism has no doubt the devastating events which have unfolded since January here in Queensland and in key international markets such as New Zealand and Japan will have a real impact on the city’s tourism industry,” he says.

“This coming year is going to be a challenge for many tourism businesses. A lot of that recovery momentum has been stalled by January’s disasters and factors like the high dollar and increased global competition won’t disappear in the near future.

“But we have the ability to better respond to these challenges now and we believe the positive momentum of 2010 can be regained in 2011.”

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