While outbound tourism has been hitting record highs, domestic tourism has been the poor relation, as Australians flock overseas to make the most of the strong dollar. To put it into perspective, the latest Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF) statistics estimate that international departures will increase 5.4% this year, while domestic nights will creep up just 0.5%. With both markets up on last year’s figures, the numbers are hardly disappointing per se. But on the flipside, the TTF only expects domestic tourism to produce “modest growth” of around 0.3% per year for the next decade.
Tourism Australia, by contrast, has been quick to point to the latest national statistics, which show that domestic overnight trips grew 4% in the last quarter of 2011. Domestic spend was also up 2.3% and overnight spend registered growth of 1.6% over the same period.
The figures are commendable on the back of difficult market conditions, but still remain “well below” 2007-2008 levels, according to the latest IBISWorld forecast. And like the TTF, its expectations are equally bleak.“The domestic tourism market will remain in limbo as it loses its strategic focus and its connection with travellers, who now prefer to travel overseas instead,” the IBISWorld Tourism in Australia report said.
Flying in the face of the negative forecasts, Tourism Australia remains resolute. In fact, it has every confidence that domestic travel will step up to become a $70 billion market by 2020. But with the domestic travel market currently valued at around $63 billion and the years passing, Tourism Australia has intervened with a $5 million push to encourage Australians to take more holidays at home.
The push comes as Tourism Australia launched the second phase of its global marketing campaign in Shanghai earlier this month. Following on from the There’s nothing like Australia campaign, which launched in 2010, $250 million has been thrown behind various digital and social media promotions to encourage affluent travellers to visit our shores. A series of new TV ads have entered the mix, along with print and online advertising materials which will initially target those in China, the UK and the US. The campaign will also run in Australia to push more Australians to holiday in their own backyard.
Measuring the success
Naturally, Tourism Australia remains confident the campaign will hit the right chords and translate to firm bookings. Others, however, are more sceptical of its potential for success.
Industry expert and senior lecturer in tourism at the University of Technology Sydney, David Bierman, believes the campaign will strike an emotional chord among the Australian public. But, like the previous Oprah campaign, which is yet to deliver quantifiable results, he said it is unlikely to affect our spending habits. “These campaigns certainly make us feel good about our country, but when we think about the dollars, we’re quickly reminded: ‘gee, it’s good to go overseas’,” he said.
Bierman commended the campaign’s imagery for its potential to encourage interest from Chinese visitors, but was less enthusiastic about its potential to resonate among the Australian public. “This campaign will pull nicely at the heart strings, but not so well at the wallet,” he said.
Regardless of the campaign’s success, Bierman said any softening of the Australian dollar could see domestic travel gain more momentum. It may only be incremental in the short term, he said, but it could be just what’s needed to lure to the visitor numbers that Tourism Australia craves.