On Message: In tourism marketing, Queensland still rules

On Message: PR Week editor Danny Rogers on marketing and branding

Great marketing has helped Queensland minimise tourism losses. Can its latest campaign match the success of Best Job In The World?

When it comes to innovative social media campaigns Visit Queensland not only leads the way for travel destinations, but also for most other types of brands.

Last week the trailblazing tourism authority launches its latest wheeze – the Passport to Shine campaign, which encourages consumers to share a virtual passport to Queensland with as many ‘friends’ as possible, via social networks – with the lure of a free holiday for themselves and their mates.

Visit Queensland’s confidence is sky high at the moment. It marked the campaign with a glitzy launch in London – UK is the Aussie state’s most lucrative tourism market after New Zealand – and has overhauled the state’s tourism logo and strapline around the theme Queensland: Where Australia Shines.

This swagger derives from last year’s incredibly successful Best Job in the World campaign, which saw tens of thousands apply to be ‘caretaker’ of some beautiful islands in Queensland for a year.

Not only did the idea create a massive amount of buzz, but picked up a golden lion at the global advertising festival in Cannes in 2009.

Queensland’s tourism efforts are successful because of a number of factors. Most importantly they tap into the social media zeigeist in recent years, where consumers love to build their own communities of ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ around areas of mutual interest, particularly via Facebook.

Secondly they strike a chord with the ‘gap year’ culture, shared by hundreds of thousands of young Brits. Australia has always been a key stop-off on the gap year circuit. And the Best Job in the World idea also struck a nerve with many who had experienced this, but now found themselves in frustrating early jobs following university.

And thirdly, the campaigns recognise that any social media campaign can be successfully amplified via great PR. At its best public relations creates ‘talkability’ around a campaign, which ensures that the marketing initiative reaches way beyond its target market. An innovative idea amplified by effective PR creates buzz, which is then picked up and fed back via traditional media – a virtuous circle.

But of course the acid test is to what these campaigns generate real tourism revenue for Queensland. A look at Tourism Queensland’s official site suggests that international tourism between June 2009 and June this year actually dropped by 2% (PDF) despite last year’s campaign.

These are worrying figures for the tourist authority’s funders, particularly when such marketing initiatives must be costing a fair bit.

But then maybe this outcome isn’t as bad as it first looks. Global tourism fell by around 4% over the same period, thanks to the worldwide economic downturn. And one could expect a destination such as Australia to be hit worse than most, because of its distance from most major tourism markets – and therefore its prohibitively high cost.

Australia also suffers the double whammy of having a dollar that is at its highest rate for decades against US and European currencies.

So, a decline of just 2% in such a climate could actually be considered a success for Queensland. More worrying must be the potential for higher university fees in the UK, which could deter future gap year students.

But on balance we should praise Visit Queensland for its innovation, creativity and marketing effectiveness. One wouldn’t be surprised if this destination is now on many young people’s wish lists, once their finances improve.

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