For most American vacationers, Australia is a distant place indeed. Using the Internet, the Australian Tourist Commission is bolstering its efforts to convince this market that perception is not reality.
Since last month, an upgraded australia.com has been the call to action in all the commission's television and print advertising. The site, previously mostly research-led, now is being positioned as a destination for booking two-week Australian packages from under $2,000.
“We're trying to say you can go to Australia: It's not expensive, and you can do it in your annual two-week vacation, and that it's not that far away,” said Rachel Crowley, manager of marketing communications at the commission's office in Century City, CA.
Australia.com could not be more single-minded in its pursuit, at least in the U.S. section of the nine-language site. Copy on the home page makes the case.
“You thought you didn't have enough time to come Down Under?” it reads. “These 2 weeks will definitely change your mind. And you thought you couldn't afford it? Well, we've got heaps of 2 week vacations starting from under $2,000. Better yet, we've got the perfect vacation just for you. Pick one now – we can't wait to say G'day!”
Below that are images and links to 11 vacations and deals. The categories are best value, Australia naturally, adventures and outback, luxury and indulgence, romance and resorts, local secrets, discover-it-yourself, family, escorted, special interest, and gay and lesbian.
“What our research shows is a great interest in Australia as a vacation spot,” Crowley said. “We want to convert that into actual bookings and people getting on flights going down there.”
That issue has been Australia's Sisyphean challenge. Despite their enthusiasm, North American consumers still perceive Australia as a remote destination that requires a lot longer than the standard two-week vacation.
“So people have put Australia into a category of being a once-in-a-lifetime vacation destination,” she said.
The U.S. traveler does have reason to think twice.
Take travel and the vagaries of crossing the international dateline. Though the average flight from Los Angeles to Sydney is 12 hours, the traveler arrives two days later. However, that time is regained on the way back when the flight departs Australia and arrives in the United States on the same day.
But challenges do not end there. When consumers think of Italy, many images come to mind. With Australia, it is the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney or the kangaroo, research by the tourist commission has shown.
Even worse is another popular perception, that Europe is closer than Down Under. Not so.
“From Los Angeles to Rome is exactly the same time as it is from Los Angeles to Sydney, and yet people have a perception that flying to Europe is a lot closer than flying to Australia,” Crowley said.
About 500,000 Americans visited Australia last year. But forecasts of 9 percent growth for this year have been trimmed since the tragic events of Sept. 11.
“That said, we are very confident about this year,” Crowley said. “So far, what we've heard anecdotally from wholesalers around the country is that bookings to Australia are very strong in this first quarter of 2002.”
She would not venture a guess for traffic this year.
Work to revamp australia.com was under way for 12 months, Crowley said, so it was not a knee-jerk reaction to Sept. 11.
“You can't completely revamp a 10,000-page international Web site in three months,” she said.
The upgraded site also meets a key need. Even those U.S. travelers interested in the Land of Oz did not know where to begin in planning an Australian vacation.
“So what we've tried to do in addressing that barrier with these packages is come up with packages that appeal to every possible sort of vacation style or taste,” Crowley said. “Australia.com gives people an idea of where to begin planning.
“We're trying to take all the hard work out of planning an Australian vacation because that's what research has shown us is another significant barrier to realizing a dream,” she said.
An ongoing marketing campaign should rustle up enthusiasm by driving traffic to australia.com.
A media buy of $3 million has been allocated for 30-second TV spots on channels like BBC America, A&E, Bravo, CNBC, Discovery Channel, History Channel, The Learning Channel and National Geographic. The effort broke Jan. 21. Flanking that is a newspaper effort.
In both media, the call to action is australia.com and sometimes the tourist commission's travel partners — United Airlines and sibling United Vacations, and Qantas Airways, to name a few. These partners execute the orders once placed via australia.com.
“Our primary purpose,” Crowley said, “is no longer just the education of the American traveling public about Australia as a destination for them to consider. Awareness exists. Now it's time to put more of our attention to actual conversion of our awareness into action.”