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 


$20 bln Education Services Sector About to be Testsed

photodune-5908922-education-lAustralia’s education services sector is now a $20 billion export industry as universities and vocational education & training (VET) institutions enjoy double-digit year-on-year growth.  The attractiveness of Australia to international students, particularly those from neighbouring Asia-Pacific nations, is rightly a source of national pride. But how long can it last? In this article Horizon examines the challenges which lie ahead for education services and what marketers can do to protect their share of lucrative international student revenues.

 Disruption to education services is good old fashioned competition

US colleges are waking up to the revenue potential on offer from international students. Soon this will translate into aggressive marketing campaigns that will challenge Australia’s education institutions to more effectively market and position their services, notwithstanding ‘brand Australia’.

Department of Education & Training research highlights the risks of a waking US giant. Although globally the revenue pie attributed to international students is growing, the new push by US institutions positioning their offers to market will be formidable. Its colleges dominate all global rankings and can offer career pathways directly to numerous multinational corporations.

Whilst ‘brand Australia’ will remain an attractive plus-point, the reputation of our institutions is the major drawcard for international students. This can be undercut by US Ivy League universities which can rightfully point to stronger academic achievements and overall output.

The successful agency models which Australian universities and VET institutions have engaged could also be under threat by a newly enlightened US competitor.  Expect its universities to either threaten our existing agency relationships or create newer, larger models.

Death by a thousand cuts

Whilst US competition has the potential to inflict rapid pain to revenues in the Australian education services sector, the more serious slow, but systemic decline, could come from within our biggest student sourcing countries (i.e. China, India, Japan and South Korea) as they raise the quality and output of their own tertiary education and vocational training – including English tuition, to rival the current global elite.

China recently made its intentions clear. It wants to have world-leading universities and disciplines by 2030. This is not an unrealistic goal. In 1996 academic citations from US universities outranked those from China by 55-1. By 2014 this had shrunk to 2.5-1. From 1996-2014 overall academic output by USA universities grew by 60%. In China it grew by 1,600% (SOURCE: http://www.scimagojr.com/countryrank.php).

Global university rankings are beginning to reflect the rising output and quality of Asian universities as names like NUS (Singapore), Peking University (China), KAIST (South Korea) and Tokyo University (Japan) become mainstays inside most global top 50 ranking lists.

Stories which will shape successful outcomes for Australian businesses

Universities by nature create content – lots of content. With the right strategy this content can be used as effective marketing collateral to lure prospective international students – stories and news which positions the Australian education experience and drives close engagement with tomorrow’s international students.

To counter direct in-market marketing by US and local institutions, Australian universities will need to mobilise and amplify advocacy networks in countries where our market share is about to be challenged. Our universities and VET institutes have strong alumni networks, built up over many over recent years, particularly throughout Asia-Pacific. Mobilising those voices for strategic marketing purposes will help protect the value proposition of education in Australia, notwithstanding as the international student experience in Australia.

Boots on the ground

Strategic marketing through existing channels may not be enough. Counsel and resources from local marketing and communications professionals may be necessary to exploit latent opportunities which are not known here, and tap into the consciousness of publics in our target markets from an insider perspective.

Content partnerships which help to positively elevate brand Australia internationally could very effectively drive positive influence among target audiences in the Asia-Pacific.

If you’d like to learn more about how communications can help amplify your university’s brand wither here or abroad, contact Horizon Communication Group. We have deep experience in the education sector as well as direct experience working throughout the Asia-Pacific.

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

The communications trends shaping opinions, cultural biases and purchasing decisions in Australia this year and beyond.


Cross-media ownership on the cards? 

2016 could be the year when long talked about changes to media ownership laws become a reality.  If it does there will be lasting repercussions for many Australian businesses. While a narrowing of editorial opinion in our media may well be a consequence of changes to cross-media ownership law, this is not what’s driving the move towards change.

From JP Morgan’s recent analysis of Australian media businesses the imperative for media businesses is existential. The likely mergers and acquisitions that may occur if cross-media ownership laws are relaxed might only provide short-term relief from the disruptive forces which are descending on media businesses.

Enlarged media companies protect their audience share through the delivery of popular content. Mergers and acquisitions mean consolidation of more owned content. The surge in popularity of NetFlix, Stan and co., notwithstanding the ever-increasing value of broadcasting rights for popular content like our major sporting codes, illustrate how its the content owners, not the publishers or distributors, which hold the balance of power.

Winners and losers

Traditional media businesses are intermediaries and ripe for disruption.  This is best evidenced by the media companies that are performing well by owning and/or producing content and building communities of engaged audiences – think www.realestate.com.au or www.awol.com.au.

These strong performers understand the power of owned media (i.e. website, mobile apps, microsites, etc.), attracting and engaging larger and larger online communities with little need for paid media advertising. Brands that are able to grow audience numbers to levels that compare with traditional media, stand to gain the most. They will have the opportunity to on-sell their owned media to businesses interested in reaching their audiences.

Take Qantas’ awol for example. It currently attracts over 55,000 visits per month with visitors staying an average 2 minutes on-site. Awol’s audience number outranks many traditional media verticals which charge thousands of dollars per advertising page (think local newspapers) tenfold, making the site attractive media space for businesses interested in reaching the Qantas-awol audience – e.g. tour operators, travel insurance, car rental, luggage brands, et al.

Huge opportunities for owned media as brands become publishers

Exploiting popular owned media will be attractive to marketers, CEOs and CFOs as it turns the traditional marketing cost centre into a revenue generator. This is the mother lode for marketing communications which is forever trying to justify ROI. Lenovo’s recent decision to take its global media buying in-house provides a strong case in point.

Intermediary businesses in media buying will be the first to feel the pain of disruption to the media industry. Media publishers and broadcasters that do not secure the content necessary to attract and retain audiences will follow.

The businesses which will thrive in this new disrupted era will be those that understand the new realities in media communications and take an investment view of the marketing communications function.

If you think these insights could be important to your organisation and you’d like to learn more, contact Horizon Communication Group.


First published at www.horizoncg.com.au

Australia 2016: election campaign communications to go digital

Marketers and communications professionals should pay close attention during this year’s Federal Election.

dHorizon is looking at the communications trends which will shape our opinions, cultural trends and purchasing habits in 2016.  This week we begin with a look at the innovations that will drive communications from our political leaders.

  • Opportunities for marketers and communications professionals
  • 2016 Federal Election to embrace programmatic advertising and social media content testing
  • Increased data integration as field/ booth and voter files merge with social network data

A recent report concerning government communications spending portends positive times ahead for professionals involved in shaping and delivering public information campaigns (PICs). What remains to be seen is whether recent increased investment in planning and testing for PICs translates into more sophisticated campaigning at the upcoming Federal Election.

If it does, Australians should expect to start receiving more sophisticated political advertising this year as the government borrows techniques from consumer advertising as well as recent US Presidential Elections.

Programmatic to hit the hustings

Whatever your thoughts on the roll out of the NBN, few would argue Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull gets digital.  And, as Australia becomes the world leader in the purchase of programmatic advertising among all digital ad spending, expect this tactic to be used widely during the 2016 Federal Election.

If you happen to live in a marginal seat, get ready to receive targeted advertising on your mobile devices.

Data integration to inform advertising/ message creative

As an avowed advocate of better use of big data by the public service, expect the government to begin integrating traditional campaign data with data from social networks and content marketing.

If the government gets its data integration right, voters should expect to be targeted more than ever before with advertising that is informed by the individual’s content consumption. That is, the news and commentaries, advertisements and thought leadership we each read will shape the advertising messages we are fed by political candidates.

Applying online for home loan? Click to read about the ALP’s policy on first home buyer grants.

‘Liking’ a Facebook Group devoted to saving the Great Barrier Reef? Here’s a message from The Hon. Greg Hunt, Australian Minister for the Environment.

Marketing to become more fluid

The party which is prepared to apply fluid content creation informed by data will gain advantage at this year’s Federal Election and the messages which resonate most with voters will be those which are seen as the most authentic.

Trending messages and creative will be favoured over those that tank. Strategists will use content marketing data to integrate and inform other communications channels, including key messages delivered by candidates at door stops and planned media interviews.

If the political campaigns we see in the year ahead maximise the technological and strategic possibilities available there will be much for organisations and professional communicators to learn from – new ways to engage customers and stakeholders, more sophisticated measurement and tracking, and more ‘live’ message and creative development.

If you’d like to learn more contact HORIZON COMMUNICATION GROUP.

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



Yesterday’s stunning declarations by Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki, withdrawing his support for the Australian government’s Intergenerational Report (IGR), is an act of self-immolation on a level rarely seen in Australian public discourse.  For readers unfamiliar with the story so far, here is a brief summary.

1. Aiming to communicate the rationalisation behind proposed (but not yet passed) budgetary cuts revealed in the 2014 budget, and expected to again be central to the 2015 budget due in May, Treasury released the IGR on March 5.  The IGR featured costed analyses of the Australian economy in 2055 predicated on three scenarios: (1) a continuation of budgetary expenditure at the levels supported by the Labor government when it left office in 2013; (2) the passing of new policies proposed in the 2014 budget (i.e. those which remain locked in the Australian Senate); and (3) a sort of Goldilocks scenario which assumes the passing of some of the 2014 budget measures but not all, presumably designed to set the stage for next month’s 2015 budget which will be framed as the compromise we have to have.

2. The three scenarios presented in the IGR were widely criticised as unrealistic as each one assumed uninterrupted continuance for 40 years.  For example, scenario #1 suggests the massive cost blowouts which would occur under Labor’s 2013 expenditures would be allowed to continue until 2055 despite the obvious threat to the economy such an approach would pose each and every year until 2055.  Likewise, for scenario #2 to become reality the Australian public would be expected to live through 40 years of the severe budget measures proposed in 2014, presumably so our grandchildren can enjoy the benefits of a massive surplus in 2055.  That surplus is predicated only on revenues which we can forecast today, an assumption which suggests our economy will create no additional growth drivers for 40 years!

3. With such fuzzy logic it is little wonder the IGR generated so much criticism.  Enter the PR spin doctors.  Asked to cultivate reasoned public discourse about the future of the Australian economy a coalition of PR, research and advertising firms created a campaign using well-known science guru Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki as spokesperson.

The research firm involved conducted focus groups and polling of 1200 people to aid the strategy development behind the campaign.  One suspects the selection of Dr. Karl came as a result of that polling for it would come as no surprise if focus group research found Dr. Karl to be considered intelligent, rationale, non-partisan, trusted, etc.  A scientific voice to push through the politics.

Where the strategy failed and where Dr. Karl has failed the strategy, is that the IGR has no credibility as a scientific document as the summary above explains.  Paying a scientist to speak in favour of the IGR will not convince the public that the IGR has credibility as a work of scientific research, a fact Dr. Karl is now beginning to realise.  His stunning admission that he only participated in the campaign for the money and that he failed to do his own scientific due diligence in analysing the IGR before publicly supporting it has destroyed his credibility whilst further damaging the credibility of the IGR and the government.

A much bigger issue lies at the core of the Dr. Karl fiasco – the credibility of science and academia.  The purchasing of ‘scientific endorsement’ is not new to an increasingly informed and interconnected public.  We’ve seen it in the climate skepticism strategy financed by big oil.  We’ve seen it in the disgraced academia who failed to declare conflicts of interest when providing their own version of ‘cash for comment’ as voices of academic/ scientific reason and impartiality when they publicly supported key economic regulatory reforms favorable to large US financial institutions prior to the Global Financial Crisis.

The founder of a global food and beverage company and self-made millionaire once told me that money is trust.  I wonder how much Dr. Karl believed his trust to be worth before he agreed to support assertions arrived at without proper scientific diligence.  I suspect he will be forming the view that trust should remain priceless.

PUBLIC RELATIONS: Don’t be captive to the agenda – control it!


A fascinating article in Harvard Business Review today about top CEOs use of social tools for communication and data analysis. The article details how top CEOs are using internal digital platforms to better share wisdom and creativity among teams, and to encourage greater ownership in and motivation for the company.

In the decentralised corporate model digital enables precise, real-time influence and reinforcement by CEOs, as well as collaboration/ influence by and among rank and file employees, of the organisation’s common purpose, vision, mission, covenants, etc. As a two-way communication tool, social facilitates co-creation of the internal organisational agenda in a way which no amount of town hall meetings or executive retreats can.

Turn this analysis of internal digital communications towards external communications and you inevitably arrive at a conversation about branded content which, when strategically invested for the long term, allows the organisation to similarly shape its agenda, although in this case, among external stakeholders and constituents.

Little wonder then that branded content is the new frontier corporates and agencies alike are clamoring to get a piece of. I recall the explosion of social media ten years ago and the debate around which communications practice should lead the design and execution of communications in social media platforms which were emerging then. Should it be advertising or PR? The same debate is now on in earnest with regards branded content.

I suggest branded content could finally be a place where PR and advertising content might peacefully coexist. I welcome any thoughts and contributions from PR/comms pros and business leaders …