For Tourism Australia’s Harrison, “real and authentic” storytelling is king

For Tourism Australia’s Harrison, “real and authentic” storytelling is king The first thing you got

For Tourism Australia’s Harrison, “real and authentic” storytelling is king

The first thing you got to know about Philippa Harrison, managing director of Tourism Australia, is she’s not a big believer in the metaverse.

When I asked her to rate new and upcoming marketing channels on a scale of 1-10, 1 being least excited, she gave metaverse a score of 3. She laughed, “I know, never say never, but right now I feel it’s not an authentic way to tell a story.”

What she’s excited about is shortform content which she rated a 9 and live streaming and KOLs which she scored an 8.

Philippa Harrison: “We will double down on content generation and telling the stories.”

In South-east Asia, Tourism Australia works closely with a network of influencers who have existing ties to Australia, for example studied there or travelled frequently there, because they can tell a more authentic story. It also leverages local Australians who have a growing influence across South-east Asia. It has also done livestreaming in Indonesia in partnership with Traveloka, featuring celebrity Shareena Delon on Facebook Live.

And while other tourism boards are building worlds on Roblox or Tencent QQ and working with Google AR Core to pilot immersive AR experiences (okay, okay, it’s Singapore Tourism Board), Tourism Australia is not embarking on such initiatives at this stage.

“Our focus is telling the Australian story in a real and authentic way, and we will double down on content generation and telling the stories. We still feel the big broadcast campaigns are important. People are always planning holidays and we need to show up in people’s feeds, at the top of the funnel,” said Harrison, who became the first woman to lead Tourism Australia since her appointment in September 2019.

For markets that are more familiar with Australia – for example, Singapore has 86% repeats – “we have to make sure we tell our story in a different way, with fresh and familiar stories. Food and wine is a key driver here, as are wide open spaces. Singapore is probably the biggest car hire market for us.”

And yes, while there may be a lot of buzz about generative AI and what it can do for content creation and itinerary planning, she said Tourism Australia does not have a team specifically working with this tool. “We are tech-agnostic,” she said.

She believes though that “the really interesting possibility is personalised itineraries and enhancing the richness of content.”

This focus on authentic storytelling, she believes, feeds well into one key universal traveller trend that’s emerged post-pandemic – purposeful travel. “People rediscovering themselves and each other and to connect, as well as wellness travel, which offers lots of opportunities for Australia. We are seeing a lot of that at the moment and we believe it’s a longterm trend, and not a short-term thing because of the pandemic.

A record 99 sellers met with 88 buyers from South-east Asia for a total of 7.140 appointments.

Pent-up demand reflected in biggest South-east Asian Marketplace

Harrison was speaking to WiT on the sidelines of Australia Marketplace South-east Asia held in Singapore last week. The first face-to-face marketplace to be held in the region since the pandemic saw a record number of 99 sellers meet with 88 buyers across Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and, for the first time, buyers from Philippines and Thailand. A total of 7,140 appointments were made.

Recovery has been fairly robust from South-east Asia, with Singapore leading the pack. Singapore is at 95% of arrivals for May 2023, compared to May 2019; Australia welcomed more than 350,000 arrivals from Singapore over the past 12 months.

Indonesia is at 70% of arrivals for May 2023, compared to May 2019, with more than 146,000 arrivals over the past 12 months, while Malaysia’s recovery is more muted – at 40% of arrivals for May 2023, compared to May 2019; registering more than 135,000 arrivals over the past 12 months.

Said Harrison, “In the beginning, the South-east Asian market was led by VFR when borders first opened but now we are seeing the holiday market start to pick up, although not quite up to pre-Covid levels. We don’t expect those levels to be reached until 2025.”

The exception is India, whose arrivals are above pre-pandemic levels, largely driven by two factors, according to Harrison – more direct connectivity, 250% over 2019 and the growing Indian diaspora in Australia.

While some might question the necessity of having a specific South-east Asian marketplace, given Australian Tourism Exchange has just been held, because it is a huge investment, requiring the tourism board to host all 88 buyers, Harrison said, “This one is laser focused on these markets and it helps us recruit new buyers into the Australian network. Australia is a big complex destination and we need to invest in our distribution partners.”

The shift to online is still happening

Asked if the mix of buyers had shifted over the years to include more online buyers – Harrison once worked at Viator in senior sales, marketing and product roles – she said, “The shift to online is still happening. There is still a lot of complexity around travel at the moment and as I said, Australia is a complex destination. People do a lot of research online and then book with a traditional partner. We are distribution agnostic.”

Online players like Klook,, KK Day and Traveloka were among the buyers at the marketplace.

Fact is, the tours and activities sector is huge in Australia. Harrison said that of the 300,000 businesses within the Australian tourism ecosystem, 95% are micro-businesses, “almost cottage industry-like”.

“For those businesses, online has been a great leveller, enabling them to achieve richness of content. There’s been a democratisation, now anyone can be discovered.”

During the pandemic, Tourism Australia implemented the National Experience Content Initiative (NECI), a A$12 million content creation initiative aimed at supporting tourism businesses across Australia in their recovery.

“We provided photography and video services to 1,400 small businesses so that they could create content and have that content shared through our network,” said Harrison, adding that more than 95% of small businesses are back.

And while some destinations have used this opportunity to challenge travellers’ perceptions – to make them think and look anew at a place, Harrison said, “We reminded people what they know and love about us, that Australia is warm and welcoming, and reminded them what they have missed about us. Australia is usually the top five in people’s aspirations – our challenge is to get them to get on a plane and come here.”

As for the hidden gem she personally discovered during the pandemic, she cited Tasmania’s Bay Of Fires walk. “There have been incredible walks developed over the last 10 years and I think Australians themselves didn’t realise that.”

Incidentally, given her passion for authentic storytelling, I asked her to pick a Tourism Australia video that spoke to the three key themes behind users’ search behaviour – soul searching, value hunting and finding joy – in Google’s Consumer Insights: 2022 APAC Consumer Trends. This was her choice. Enjoy.