HE may have flown Virgin business class to get here, but Tourism Australia chairman and former Qantas boss Geoff Dixon (pictured) was always going to be peppered regarding the debacle that threatened the iconic brand of his former employer.

“The last time I was here, I was absolutely lambasted for taking Qantas business class out of the Gold Coast and I would just like to say I flew up here with Virgin business class. I even texted John Borghetti (Virgin CEO) and told him how good it was,” says Dixon, lamenting on Qantas services being replaced by Jetstar on the Coast in 2004.

While Qantas’ woes continue following a backlash on Twitter where customers aired and shared their ‘horror stories’ rather than use the platform as part of the airline’s competition, Dixon pledged his support for its CEO Alan Joyce and his controversial decision to ground planes earlier this month in the wake of an ugly IR debacle.

“To be frank, what Alan did was a big call. It could have been a bit more flash but, when bookings are dropping by the day, he made the right call. He certainly had my support.”

When pressed on details of that conversation, Dixon was coy to divulge.

“Any conversation that I had with Alan is between him and me. He’s a very good friend. I’m not privy to everything that goes on at Qantas these days, but a decision was made and from my vantage point, it appeared that they were at an impasse and they needed to move forward.”

Speaking at an Australian Institute of Directors luncheon on the Gold Coast today, Dixon told a packed house consisting of business leaders and industry representatives that Australia has a propensity to talk itself into the tourism doldrums.

His modus operandi was to dispel the myths, which he believes are hurting Australia’s $94 billion tourism industry.

The myths he refers to suggest the industry is in decline; that the product is second rate and devoid of new investment, and that the high Australian Dollar is the major impediment to growth.

“In 2011, Australian tourism’s report card has been one of relatively strong performance in very difficult operating environment,” says Dixon.

“There has been a rise in international visitors to almost 6 million, up 4 per cent for the year ending June 2011, with visitor spending up 5 per cent. Domestic trips were up 4 per cent over the same period.”

Dixon conceded a decline in numbers from Europe and the US but touted growth markets in Asia including China, Malaysia and Indonesia.

“These are not signs of an industry in decline or an industry that has lost its international competitiveness,” he says.

“However, it is a sign that the industry needs to adapt and adapt quickly to what is shaping as a seismic shift in who our visitors are and what they expect and want from their holidays.”

Dixon revealed that Tourism Australia will roll out a concerted new campaign in 2012 to target ‘unashamedly the high yield traveller’ a multifaceted strategy blending the messages of high quality and unsurpassed natural beauty.

The tourism supremo would not reveal a dollar commitment, but ramped up the concept as an addition to its generic marketing of the country.

“It will be a campaign that will highlight the world’s best in Australia, including the luxury lodges, hotels and facilities, the glamour and excitement of the Gold Coast, our food and our wine and our magnificent natural wonders,” he says.

The Gold Coast he says, is in a position to leverage off its prime beaches and natural Hinterland assets, low-fare airlines and major events such as the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

“There has been challenging times on the Gold Coast, but you still have one of the fastest growing airports in the country that has been successful in wooing low-cost airlines and which has facilities that will enable future opportunities for growth, particularly out of Asia,” he says.

As for the sole blame on the currency adversely impacting inbound traffic, Dixon says it’s an ‘overstated assertion’.

“Even if it was an absolute truth – that is the price we pay for our economic success and stability,” he says.

“Australia’s visitor numbers are actually growing despite the high value of our currency. People are coming and they are coming in record numbers, but without a doubt less value is being left in Australia as the visitors encounter higher than expected costs when they get here.

“This will continue while ever the dollar remains high and there is little we can do about it but ensure our product and service offerings are first-class and worth the price we place on them.”

Dixon also spoke of the need to ensure that all states would mutually benefit from Tourism Australia’s advertising campaigns.

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