John O’Sullivan and actor Chris Hemsworth, who starred in Tourism Australia’s A$36m Dundee campaign. Image: Tourism Australia
Tourism New Zealand is one of the best destination marketers in the world and one whose work “I was certainly very vocal with my team about”, says Tourism Australia’s former boss, John O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan left the role of managing director of Tourism Australia in June to become chief executive of Australasian adventure operator Experience Co.
“I think Tourism New Zealand is one of the best national tourism organisations in the world,” he told the Ticker.
“When I was at Tourism Australia, I was certainly very vocal with my team about looking at how well Tourism New Zealand did things under Kevin Bowler’s leadership and then, through the transition, under Stephen England-Hall.”
The 100% Pure New Zealand brand deserved particular praise, said O’Sullivan.
“I think the brand platform of 100% Pure New Zealand is one of the great brands of anywhere in the world in modern times. It’s been such a brand, so true to the promise, and it’s had great longevity and consistency,” he said.
“I think where Stephen has gone with the dialling up of the people aspect, with Good Morning World, like ‘100% people’, is actually a really, really smart evolution.”
Aside from TNZ’s work, New Zealand had provided a model for parts of the Australian tourism sector to follow.
“I think New Zealand has also led the charge on adventure, it has led the charge on luxury, and a lot of those types of experiential-led campaigns, which was what the [luxury] Signature Experiences of Australia programme was ostensibly modelled on,” said O’Sullivan.
“So, from my point of view, I think New Zealand as a country markets tourism as good as anyone anywhere in the world, including Australia.”
O’Sullivan took the helm of Tourism Australia in March 2014 after joining from broadcaster Fox Sports, where he was chief operating officer.
“The fundamental challenge [in 2014] was more of a cultural one. Tourism Australia was incredibly well led by Andrew McEvoy, who was my predecessor, so for me it was more about making sure we didn’t get complacent as a business,” he said.
“We’d done some great things from Andrew’s time but from my time in sport there’s a great saying that [Australian rugby player] John Eales used to say: good teams often make bad decisions when things are going well. That for me was fundamental.”
Tourism Australia adapted to the challenge of “not just celebrating and looking back over our shoulders but looking ahead,” said O’Sullivan.
“Our engagement with industry was also something I was really proud of and I really focused on because businesses like Tourism Australia and Tourism New Zealand succeed when they work best with the industry. They don’t necessarily always have to agree with the industry but Tourism Australia is a platform that can be used by industry to sell the country both prior to arrival and while visitors are in market.”
Under O’Sullivan, Tourism Australia launched a huge A$36m (NZ$39m) single-market push in 2018 aimed at “supercharging the value of American tourism Down Under” with a campaign starring Australian actor Chris Hemsworth and US comedian Danny McBride. The agency committed more than a quarter of its A$129m annual government budget to the Dundee campaign, which included an expensive 60-second NFL SuperBowl ad.
“We were prepared to back ourselves by doing some bold things so things like Dundee, which we did in the US, was an example where we really tried to do something different. It was different for us because it was the first time Tourism Australia had put a significant amount of its resources into just one market,” said O’Sullivan.
“That’s the challenge with businesses like Tourism Australia and Tourism New Zealand, they do get a lot of money but it’s not a lot of money when you spread that across 14 or 15 markets, especially when the likes of the OTAs will spend upwards of $100m a year in media spend in America alone. You have to go big or go home and that’s what we did, go big.”
O’Sullivan said it wouldn’t be until the end of next year when the success of the campaign could be accurately measured.
“We know from talking to aviation partners, travel agents and operators on the ground here in Australia that they have seen a big upswing in the American market. At the end of the day, government ownership means you have to put KPIs on things and they are always very difficult. We stuck our neck out on what was overall a very successful campaign.”
Challenges for industry today included coping with climate change and the effect movements like flight shaming could have on tourism to Australasia.
“I think all of us now have to realise that climate change is becoming more of an issue, whether we like it or agree with it or not,” said O’Sullivan.
“But I think it’s pretty harsh to beat up on the airlines or people for travelling long distances on airlines because I think the likes of Qantas, Air New Zealand, and Virgin Australia do more research on carbon neutral technology and policies than any other industry on the planet.
“From my point of view, we need to recognise this is an issue and we all need to start thinking about the policies and the way we behave. That said, I think the tourism industry has probably been the best industry in coexisting with the environment because of the fact that it relies so heavily on it.”
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