We punch above our weight. That was the underdog mantra underpinning last week’s Tourism Australia briefing in Sydney.

It started with opening speaker Leigh Sorensen, who used the phrase four or five times, and was echoed by most of the following presenters, all of them Tourism Australia staff staying on message, whether deliberate or not.

They seemed to be saying we’re Aussie battlers at the far end of the earth (with a lifestyle we want to sell the world) who are doing OK despite the global forces arrayed against us. 

And that’s true enough, tourism growth is slowing all around the world due to factors like like Trump, trade wars and Brexit.

Global uncertainty, you know the drill. It’s a tough market.

“We’re still positive about the future but there are headwinds,” said TA Managing Director Pip Harrison.

Challenges she cited included:

  • increased international  competition for the tourism dollar
  • softening of the key Chinese market
  • 9.4% media inflation making marketing more costly
  • Negligible growth in air capacity growth, though there are signs that the 27m airline seats into Australia may be enough for now.

She advised the 200+ audience that the days of the 6% to 7% annual inbound growth Australia  enjoyed for a decade or so are over and that 2% to 3% is the new normal.

It’s a massive drop – half to one third of what it’s been in recent times – and highlights the importance of China to Australian tourism.

Fair to say the China boom has been papering over cracks in other markets which are now beginning to appear.

Compounding the China slump is softer growth in other Top 10 markets: South Korea (-12%), the UK (-3%) and Germany (-3%).

India is hot though, growing at 17% in the year to September 30, off a lowish base it must be said, while Japan is back baby, up 6%. The US is also doing well. 

 Challenges lie ahead with TA research showing that Australia is falling behind competitor markets in a number of key metrics such as intention to travel and appeal.

In other words,  Australia’s not as fashionable as it once was. That’s the thing with fashion, it goes in and out of style.

The solution is to do more with less.

“We’re going to do fewer things from a marketing point of view but are going to do them better and have more impact,” said Harrison.

The primary target market is high value travellers, a segment Australia is already doing well in.

Harrison said while Australia ranked #40 globally for annual visitor arrivals (more than 9m), it is #7 in international tourism receipts and #1 in spend per visitor.

Tourism Australia’s new ‘Come Live Our Philausophy’ marketing campaign – which has been derided domestically – will focus on 10 markets.

The campaign, which invites tourists to live the Australian lifestyle, cost a lot and there’s even more riding on it, especially the reputations of  those who created and backed it.

Have they punched above their weight? We’ll know soon enough.

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