What happens when 180 regional tourism professionals come together?!

Everyone knows what happens at convention, stays at convention (except what gets tweeted)

Just kidding! So, what happened when regional tourism professionals from across Australia got together for two days at the Australian Regional Tourism Convention this October in the beatiful coastal Tweed Valley of northern NSW?

Australian Regional Tourism convention 2018.jpg

Did we solve regional Australia’s key tourism challenges?:

  • Enabling infrastructure (access and digital connectivity)

  • Commonwealth grant funding for tourism development

  • Reliable and useful tourism data

  • Regional dispersal of growing international markets

  • Agritourism development

  • Skills shortages

Not yet, but it was powerful to address these in sessions with a diverse range of regional tourism professionals.

Read more about these top issues, and the solutions identified by Australian Regional Tourism (ART)

Tourism Hub.png

Free access to the Convention presentations on the new Tourism Hub

ART’s new initiative is the free The Tourism Hub, a central platform to access tourism research, news and opportunities. Its social community will facilitate connectivity in regional destinations - you can connect with like-minded tourism professionals to share knowledge and advice. We can use the Hub to collaborate on developing best practice solutions to common challenges.

Register for the free hub where you will find all of the presentations from the convention in the 2018 Convention group.

Nigel Collin

Nigel Collin

How to effect change

Nigel Collin introduced us to his method of how to make small changes consistently for big outcomes

  1. Find a gap (a problem, challenge or opportunity that if you address it, it will have a massive payoff)

  2. Take action

  3. Test and measure

  4. Delete or improve

  • Know the why

  • Have a growth and change mindset

  • Keep learning – how can we do things better??

...and nurture the fire within others...

(and be inspired by Mindset by Carol Dweck)

Fodder for change

Stats shared at the conference were thought-provoking

  • Tourism is Australia’s largest export after iron ore and coal

  • ...with a growth rate for years of 6-8% pa

  • In less than 10 years there will be 80 full jets landing daily in Australia

  • 40% of international visitors go to regional areas (this was 50% in 2005)

  • However, the top 5 regional destinations get an awful lot of that international visitation

  • ...and our fastest growing markets have the lowest dispersal into regional areas

  • International visitors don’t rate regional attractions as ‘must see’

  • The biggest reason for them not visiting a regional destination is not having enough time – though almost a quarter have no interest in visiting regions

  • 70% of domestic visitors go to regional areas but

  • ...53% of Melbournians haven’t spent a night in regional VIC

  • ...and by 2020 Australians will take 2 million cruise trips each year – that’s some competition!

    Only 19% of travellers consult a destination’s website
    But 77% consult TripAdvisor

Tilma Group’s Linda Tillman presented on Events and Agritourism

Tilma Group’s director Linda Tillman presented on reinvigorating regional events on behalf of her new business rEVENTS Academy and on agritourism for ART.


  • Regional and rural events throughout Australia are facing a series of complex challenges that are impacting on their sustainability and success. 

Infographic on event challenges.png

  • Many events in regional and rural Australia have hit the maturity stage in their lifecycle and with challenges around volunteer capacity and access to funds, they are struggling to find the time and energy to consider reinvigoration. They are barely ‘turning the cogs’ each year.

  • Before regional events can reinvigorate, they need to invest in getting their strategy, systems and structure in place. Without this, reinvigoration will be wasted.

  • Regional events need to look closely at their business model and consider how this can be reinvigorated to support future success. The old model of 100% volunteer-run events is proving ineffective. It’s time for more regional events to look at government, community and industry collaborations.

  • Having a clear pathway to growth will provide regional events with clarity and direction.

Life stage of an event.png

See the presentation.

Linda presenting on the ART project she has been leading for the past two years

Linda presenting on the ART project she has been leading for the past two years


For two years, Linda has been working with other members of the ART board on an agritourism project. ART’s newly released Boosting Regional Australia through Agritourism discussion paper highlights that there is a massive opportunity for agritourism development throughout regional and rural Australia - and the time is right now for this to launch.

  • What is agritourism?

    The first thing we did in this process was to define what agritourism is. We decided that we would define agritourism quite broadly, but also narrow it down to anything that happens on farm or rural land.

Screen Shot 2018-11-30 at 3.21.32 pm.png
  • There was great discussion around the challenges and opportunities and positive insights and progress on moving forward.

  • Watch this space as Linda continues to drive this project forward over the next 12 months as she has been elected to the board of ART for another year.

The 2019 Australian Regional Tourism board, including Linda Tillman of Tilma Group

The 2019 Australian Regional Tourism board, including Linda Tillman of Tilma Group

Agritourism has to happen to meet the need of so many future visitors. It is expensive to develop tourism product in the regions that is international market-ready so the way to do that is to integrate existing product and tourism product i.e. agritourism = easy and affordable product development.

From the supply side it is a natural conclusion, but it also is from demand side because visitors want authentic experiences.

If you get momentum going, everyone in their silos will make it happen. What can we do to help get everyone on board?

The NSW Small Business Commission is doing fantastic work in NSW on streamlining the regulatory process of starting an agritourism business, to come up with one point of contact to fill out one form with all requirements on it to nurture farmers through the agritourism development process. Currently policies contradict each other and lead to insurance risks.

The Small Business Commission did a similar project like this for new cafes – the process used to involve getting 78 licenses, 36 permits, etc, etc (!!). Once the SBC have achieved this streamlining in NSW, they will share their framework with the other states and territories.

See the presentation.

Flying above the granite cliffs at The Gap, swimming with killer whales at Bremer Canyon and soaring over the Sandpatch wind farm are  some the amazing experiences you can enjoy  in Albany’s new visitor centre.

Flying above the granite cliffs at The Gap, swimming with killer whales at Bremer Canyon and soaring over the Sandpatch wind farm are some the amazing experiences you can enjoy in Albany’s new visitor centre.

How Visitor Information Centres can be relevant and valuable

A colleague we regularly collaborate with, Jayne Jennings of JJ Strategic Consulting, presented on “A National Perspective of Visitor Information Servicing”, a report soon to be published.

The report was commissioned by the national accredited visitor information centre (VIC) network, with Tourism & Events Queensland leading its development on behalf of the network and JJ Strategic Consulting developing the report.

The report distils national and international research and conversations with VICs and State Tourism Organisations on the performance and future of VICs.

Seventeen VICs shared their stories to provide insights into ways VICs are delivering value in the visitor economy.

Identifying and meeting the visitor servicing needs of a VIC’s key stakeholders is critical if VICs are to be relevant, valued and supported, including

  • visitors (whether walking in the door, calling or emailing) e.g. by locating the VIC where visitors can learn about tree kangaroos if that is what they are visiting the region to see

  • Council (the owner of the VIC) e.g. by hosting dinners to encourage visitors to extend their stay in town and spend locally

  • local visitor economy businesses e.g. by hosting wine tastings to promote the local wineries

  • the community and volunteers e.g by creating a strong team culture (a family) for retirees or opportunities to learn through training for students

There were great tips on how your visitor information centre can meet travellers’ needs, such as:

  • Offer wifi and gather stats from it

  • Embrace visitor servicing – come out from behind counter to talk with customers

  • Engage with stakeholders with famils - have a famil register. Engage with operators every month.

  • Give a reason to stop – an attraction, a dump point, RV parking, local products...

  • What services can you offer? Bike hire, electric car charge, an evening meal on a weekday night for free campers, local wine tasting evenings

  • Define your target markets e.g. drive market if the VIC is on a highway, VFR/corporate/event market at a CBD location

  • Built product out of existing products. Retailers weren’t engaging with one VIC so the VIC workshopped with them and out of that came a boutique shopping trail

  • Have the right staff (visitors are emotional and sensory)

  • Look for ways to be relevant such as having Chinese language speakers on the roster for times when flights from China land (for a VIC at an airport)

An interesting case study was the Albany WA VIC bought the rights to the Field of Light art installation that you know from Uluru. They had it sold in packages by travel agents and made $1 million in profit!

Albany also uses tech like virtual reality and projecting images onto clear windows at night to draw in visitors.

Practicing creative thinking

A fun session was on the Art of Storytelling by John Pastorelli, or really, how to think creatively – what a brilliant skill to practice by yourself and with others!

  • Jump in the creative thinking sandpit

  • Be unethical, provocative, take your clothes off, take a different perspective, etc – there are no rules! There is no right or wrong in the sandpit

  • Use “Yes, and…” instead of “Yes, but...”

  • Be playful, fun, creative, and resourceful in the way of the curious

Not every idea is a winner – park some things on the edge of the sandpit – especially if it blocks the flow.

We love things that we know – when we nudge that line in the sand, we feel uncomfortable – but in the stretch zone, it can be playful.

If you are curious about how to think more creatively, google exercises in practicing creative thinking similar to those John used like these or these.

Providing amazing experiences

Tourism researcher Karl Flowers thinks that what tourism needs more of is equations, so here is his:

social media + increased global competition = greater pressure to deliver “wow”

Karl spoke on that truism of tourism: the best marketing is word of mouth – and you get it by blowing people’s minds. Product is now superior to Promotion, Price, Place in marketing. Or as Karl put it, blow their minds and they will blow your trumpet.

Buying people’s attention through paid advertising is essentially a sign of product failure. Destination marketers and managers need to focus on offering awesome experiences.

Karl suggests a focused approach – focus on one product at a time and how it will blow people’s minds.

Great examples included the House of Eternal Return which drew 400,000 visitors in it’s first year. It’s interactive, iconic, highly differentiated, impactful and humorous. It provides raw material for people to talk about the destination.

Check out the House of Eternal Return for yourself in this video:

What visitors say:

“I want to dig into the stories – there is something else going on there.”
“You can’t compare it to anything.”

Allow visitors to create their own wow factor

  • Find a gap

  • Take action

  • Test and measure

  • Delete or refine

Prove it can work:

1. Feasibility study - testing options (address the underlying problem in various ways), concept refinement, tweaking, hard testing of product concept

2. Business case – to convince government funding skeptics and other funders

By the way, Karl recommends asking for government funding one year before a federal election, not 1-2 years after an election – ideally in a marginal seat as most funding is given to applications in these regions. (And don’t forget private philanthropists when you are seeking funding.)

If you have an iconic product – how is it evolving and meeting the market?

Use your DNA and your global significance.

For example, Townsville has global significance in its marine scientists. People want to give back to the reef still being here. They put an underwater art museum with an internationally famous artist together with citizen science and tourism in the Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA)


Investment Logic Maps (ILM)

What are problems in your region that need government attention (if you take your tourism hat off)? For example, resilience of agriculture to climate change and drought; aboriginal disadvantage; obesity. How can these be transformed into projects that will also attract tourism?

An ILM shows:

Problems > benefits for tackling that problem > all possible strategic responses > solutions (changes + assets)


There are consultants licensed by Treasury for ILM.

Destination Think!’s Chris Ball added to Karl’s message: what gets measured gets managed

  • Measure the experience (map the customer journey)

  • Manage + add value

  • Improve

Chris from Destination Think!

Chris from Destination Think!


Newscorp’s Ormi Godijn presented on Newscorp’s data.

  • With direct measurement techniques (rather than the recall used by Tourism Research Australia) Newscorp typically doubles estimates of visitor expenditure.

  • Newscorp can show which suburbs spend money on which activities eg how much residents of different suburbs spend on wine cellar sales.

  • You can upload your email database to Newscorp and see what media (newspapers, magazines) your followers read and interact with.

  • People don’t mind engaging with branded content so long as it’s good.
    Brands can increase ROI or brand lift by up to 5x with an expert team that produces high quality content (at 5-10c a word it’s worth it) - or better, create video.

  • You can leverage your media’s editorials with a campaign to create change, such as buy local/holiday at home – the ‘why’ of your campaign will bring people on the journey with yo

Ormi recommends

  • Promoting experiences that match the four key motivators for travel: escape, wow experiences, bonding, and developing oneself / appreciating life.

  • Rather than interrupting what people are interested in, be what people are interested in.

Newscorp is looking for partnerships: “How can we make a difference together?”

Linda Tillman on the board of Australian Regional Tourism.jpg

Our favourites...

Linda’s biggest inspiration and take home (apart from reconnecting with the amazing network of regional tourism professionals!) was the keynote by Nigel Collins ‘Game of Inches’.

It was so inspiring to hear a non-typical tourism presentation that still had some much relevance and made us think differently about how we look at things and approach things. For Linda this was also personally motivating, allowing her to reflect on the year and consider the years ahead – no more zombie ideas!

Linda was fortunate enough to win one of Nigel’s books, so she can gain even more inspiration.

Kushla’s favourite takehome was a personal one – the tips from Tim Jack Adams (GreenX7) on how to reconnect with yourself, others and nature.

His innovative app helps you figure out which of 7 critical life rechargers are low for you (such as sleep, movement, …) and connects you with activities in your region/where you are on holiday that can help you recharge these (such as kayaking or playing a board game with a friend).

Download GreenX7’s free wellness app

See Tim’s presentation

What was your favourite session or convention highlight?

Unfortunately we couldn’t be in every concurrent session. We would love to hear what you learned in any sessions we missed!

Kushla GaleComment