catriona rowntree talks travel & tourism marketing

What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in the tourism industry?

Considering I first started on Getaway 20 years ago, the extraordinary change for me revolves around communication. I started when people were literally just getting mobile phones, and now they rule our lives and in turn we are heavily influenced by social media and instant information which can be an incredibly powerful tool. The authenticity and the value of a brand is of utmost importance now. Whilst I think it is interesting with hotels there will always be fads, what’s cool, what’s in what’s out, etc. There is so much more for the guest now, hotels have to be 110% on their toes because if they are not, they are shamed instantly and on a mass scale with social media.

In your experience what have been the most effective marketing campaigns or tools used in destination marketing?

Two things come to mind. Firstly, you can’t beat the power of a beautiful image or beautiful advertisement when it comes to travelling. That is what our hearts desire, whether it is that classic image of that heart shaped reef from the Whitsundays or the Sydney City skyline on a perfect day, we must visually connect. Secondly, great service trumps everything else. People vote with their feet, if the service is fantastic, that will keep guests coming back again and again. Bad service equals the worst ad campaign on the planet.

Something I have learned is you can have all the bells and whistles in the world in your hotel, but if you don’t nail the service element then all of that means nothing. What I adore about that is that the human element can be the most powerful tool when it comes to travelling. You can have a hotel that has spent millions of dollars on marketing, but often the reason why we return to locations or hear wonderful things about them is actually based on individuals – the service element, and that is something we can actually control.

In terms of marketing states/destinations the most important thing is to celebrate your differences, never ever compare, never look over your shoulder and don’t ever think that the grass is greener on the other side. Embrace what is unique and remarkable about your particular location/destination, honour your past, and respect your heritage by protecting what you have. By protecting what we have naturally whether it is an environmental or historical element – by protecting that, there can be untold benefits to your business or even your whole community. For example if you drive through the town of Forbes in country NSW or Beechworth in Victoria someone, somewhere in a position of power has maintained the street front there, giving the town a completely unique identity, energy and indeed long reaching benefits for tourism. Honour your past and you will reap many benefits in your future.

What do Australian domestic destinations have over international destinations?

Service. It often gets back to the Australian personality, but our high level of service, low levels of crime, relatively good climate, there are so many tiny elements in Australia that locals take for granted that are highly valued by overseas travellers – safety, stable government, great service, easy going nature of locals, beautiful natural environments. As a young nation what we have to offer naturally is magnificent – you just don’t get a Great Barrier Reef, or a Tarkine Rainforest anywhere else in the world. What we have naturally is unbeatable, coupled with the lightness in our personality, it’s an unbeatable combination.

In recent years international tourism has increased but domestic tourism has decreased. What do domestic destinations need to do to market their assets?

Consider the cost. It is often cheaper to travel abroad than within our own country. I know that is challenging but, just being honest, price has so much to do with it. Getting back to facilities, kids clubs are so important for families. 

Ease of access is also important. State government have to help regional areas that have these amazing offerings but no proper transport to help travellers get there. You can have the most beautiful destination in the world but if a traveller can’t get there easily they simply won’t go. That has got to get back to state governments. There are some state governments that need to wake up and start thinking outside of their metro areas and be unified. Governments must help everyone out.

When you go to Victoria for a conference it is not just about what is happening in the city. Regardless of where the conference facilities are there are countless world class destinations beyond the metro area. It is important to help regional people out, to have a unified marketing campaign, get their social media live and right, and keep it up to date. Look at Google – what are the first things that come up? We need to put our regional centres right up there!

Campaigns must be independent as well. Sometimes the most powerful sponsor can have the most sway when it comes to marketing, which is completely unfair on so many levels. Marketing must be independent. We want more travellers to come to our locations. Why is France so popular when around the world it is renowned for such bad service? Because it has a brilliant transport system and a unified marketing campaign and that gets back to government. They have the final say, governments need to be more helpful in moving travellers around their states and having a unified website, and remaining independent.

In terms of Australian domestic travel, what are you most passionate about?

I am passionate about regional tourism. I feel the need to be loud and proud with regards to that because so often the metros dominate. But the fact is that a travellers’ ultimate experience comes down to the people they meet along the way. Arguably some of those finest experiences will be with those true Aussies that you meet in regional locations, whether it’s in a country town or in one of our magnificent parks. Money can’t buy great service, money can’t buy those wonderful local experiences. Knowledge is power and people need to be educated and learn about these things. 

First published on http://www.horizoncg.com.au 

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