Australian Regional Tourism Convention from the Intern's Perspective

Dozens of the top guys in tourism in one place and as Tilma Group's intern I got to schmooze and ask lots of questions (Anyone who meets me, remembers this quality about me; I'm very curious).

If you ever wondered if you were in the right industry, stop wondering! Minister for Tourism, Hon Kate Jones, says there will be 20,000 new jobs in tourism in Qld in the next 4 years! Tourism employs a million Aussies – 1 in 10 of Qlders (mining is much less), and every 10 backpackers create 1 job in Outback Australia.

Photo: The delightful Lane Brooks from Deadly Way and Kushla Gale (me, the Tilma Group intern)

How was it to be an intern at the Australian Regional Tourism Network's national convention? It was an open door to the tourism industry at all levels and specialities. I'm very grateful to Linda Tillman for taking me along for the ride, introducing me to many of her friends/ regional tourism champions. 

Spend time with those who can teach you something.

It was amazing to have contact with professionals from the biggest tourism associations in Australia, sitting on a straw bale with tea and scones; having access to destination managers to ask them about their career paths and skill sets.

Photos: A visit to Carnarvon Gorge with delegates - ticked that off my local bucket list! 

My take-outs reflect my newness to the industry (well, many years on the front lines of tourism in the US and Europe, but none in a professional role in destination management and marketing).

However, what I thought was useful and interesting may also be useful to tourism operators:

Tourism is moments of delight away from work

The future


  • There will be a billion more trips each year.
  • People will take 1,000 flights in a lifetime, will have multiple income streams, take breaks in their ‘careers’, will have location-independent work so they can live in regional areas.
  • There will be devices customised to your preferences, the internet of things, driverless cars (1 in 4 sold in 2025), chatbots, wearable tech, augmented and virtual reality, 3D printing, gesture-directed tech,androbotics, so customers crave human contact.
  • The climate is going to be weird.
  • Trends: bucket lists, health travel, mystery travel (spiritual connection, engagement, authenticity, indigenous), educational travel, extended stays to immerse in local culture.

Regional Australian Destinations

Challenges for regional tourism:

  • Distance (Lobby for more flights) (Though people want to go where it’s hard to get to) 
  • Increased competition
  • Novel and appealing products and presentation to consumers
  • Impacts of other industries (mining and agriculture)
  • Profitability
  • Embracing technology
  • Connecting with expertise in cities and globally
  • Having trade-ready bookable products to sell through travel agents
  • Continuity of staff and quality customer service
  • Seasonality
  • Awareness of products/experiences
  • Data collection and visitor statistics
  • Having internet connection
  • Global warming (or weirding) will lead to insurance problems
  • Funding with loans and refinancing; long-term returns

Opportunities for regional tourism

  • Develop aviation routes and maximise infrastructure
  • Maximise marketing dollars with virtual reality and social media
  • Revitalise and adapt existing products
  • New products with regional themes
  • Leverage events
  • Embrace sustainability
  • Chinese – have a China strategy in your region
  • Create different experiences for different markets
  • Develop unique experiences that connect people to the environmen
  • Audit your community’s resources. What can be reused?
  • Have searchable, bookable products which are easy to book! Don’t have any obstacles on the online journey  

Weaknesses of regional tourism businesses:

  • less planning
  • less collaboration
  • less use of data to inform decisions
  • less learning from other regions
  • less adaptability and resilience
  • less visibility to politicians
  • more likely to fail
  • feel there’s not enough demand.

Mining and agriculture are big businesses. Though tourism has the same impact, with many small businesses, the industry is not as visible to politicians. The tourism industry needs to speak with one voice. Get in the face of your local representative and advocate for your interests via social media, petition, directly. Farmers do this well.

Building resilience:

  • Economic, social and environmental triple bottom line for sustainability
  • Avoid locking in to path dependence
  • Develop an innovative culture – talk to others re best practices and obstacles they’ve overcome
  • Set realistic goals and back up plans
  • Don’t be over debt-dependent
  • Support your emotional stability
  • Adapt to opportunities
  • Be innovative (slide)


How do you get innovators to move to your region? How do you reinvigorate an attraction?

  • Research
  • Bring passion and motivation
  • Innovate
  • Get your community behind you
  • Develop an appealing brand
  • Build a network of specialist skills and expertise
  • Insurance
The most tweeted regions are rural.

USPs of Regional Australia as a destination
Preserve and sell your wide, open spaces, night skies, natural wonders; tourism as an STEM educational tool; link with research facilities.

Have a product that meets customer’ needs, a mission that matters to customers, and a customer journey that is clearly mapped (when they interact with you, where they get their information from)

Increase emotional intensity in interactions with people, help them create their own souvenir, cocreating their experience, connecting with their reason for traveling, discover what’s important about a place and why a visitor should feel passion for it.

Only 20% of visitors go to attractions. Social interactions such as dinner, or nature experiences are more popular.

Digital takeouts

  • Focus and plan
  •  Easy customer path to purchase
  • Content is driver of success – authentic, show people enjoying the experiences, USPs
  • Enable content sharing – of your regional partners
  • Get China-ready – Qld’s Asia strategy 

The stats!

Tourism Research Australia on Chinese visitors

  • Since 2009: 31% growth in tourism spending domestically, 43% from international visitors, 89% from Asian visitors, 250% from Chineses visitors
  • China will overtake NZ in 2017/18 as first international source market
  • $6200 average Chinese spend vs $2400 average visitor spend
  • By 2030 India will have larger middle class than China
  • Regional tourism – 3.5% growth in the next 10 years
  • Chinese visitation will grow at 13% per year


  • 10% of global spend is influenced by Tripadvisor.
  • Visitors to the site read the first two pages of reviews.
  • Chinese are downloading destination guides in Chinese for offline use. For Tripadvisor to create a destination guide, there must be a certain number of attractions, restaurants and accommodations listed in the region.

Aussies spend the most per person per trip in the world and take more than one trip per year. 47% enjoy cultural activities, and 21% buy because of special deals.

How to collect your own data

  • Do it routinely and consistently
  • Enlist the top 5 local visitor attractions and accommodations and VICs in coordinated data collection using a linked series of surveys
  • Ask for: visitor numbers, nights, origin, purpose of visit, first or return visit to region, attractions they plan to visit
  • Ask every tenth visitor in busy times to do a survey to win a coffee
  • Visitor numbers: When do they come - seasonal demand and by month and by day of week. Ask yourself – why does no one come on a Tuesday [your slow day/time]?
  • Purpose of visit – leisure, VFR, business, conference – reflect different needs and seasonality
  • Track social media ratings for business and competitors
  • Collect email addresses for after-visit surveys on key issues. Add prizes. Remind them they stayed with you.
  • Who else is collecting local data?: chamber of commerce, regional airport
  • Offer the info to your local paper as a monthly story in the local press – give some facts and analysis. Remind your community that tourism is everyone’s business. 
  • Provide a monthly detailed report to the participating attractions, properties and VICs on their visitors and aggregate visitors to the region
  • Use the data to forecast to guide marketing and investment
  • Compare actual performance to forecasted performance, and to state tourism forecasts from TRA

Creativity in funding

  • Crowdfunding
  • If you have some money, it will snowball – it’s ok to start small
  • Cocreation, collaboration
  • Don’t duplicate resources
  • Consider a different funding model such as subscription (tourists buy $1,000 worth of experiences up front and use them when they please), or return on investment (council buys building for tourism enterprise which leases to buy so the funding is repaid)
  • Have a good story and good research
  • Academics may be able to help you get funding because they are trying to get it too. You might also partner with another industry such as agriculture

Last notes

Marketing plan process
A tourism marketing agency owner took me through her process of taking a customer through a marketing plan, beginning with a situational analysis, to creation of ideal customer personas, a SWOT analysis, product analysis, competitor analysis, the product’s elevator pitch, an audit of the customer journey, and finally a marketing action plan. I had hoped that my tourism degree would have left me with a firm grasp of such a process.

Presentation skills are important! Package facts into a story like Young Tourism Professional winner did when she described the details of a roadtrip in the past, present and two future scenarios. Don’t write a speech and read it – know your subject and talk from your slides. Provide PowerPoint slides for difficult concepts so your audience can follow what you are sharing.

I'd highly recommend the Australian Regional Tourism Network as a place for incredible networking, and a font of idea-sharing and inspiration. Read Linda Tillman's blog post about her learnings from the convention, too, for a totally different perspective. 

Kushla GaleComment