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The major buzz at the Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE) in Adelaide I attended earlier this month was the new promotion launched by Tourism Australia. With the slogan "There's Nothing Like Australia" and new song to go with it, the promotion was received with a certain sense of relief by the Australian tourism community. By the time the ATE was wrapping up, the story about the promotion had been widely picked up in the media, and throughout the aisles of exhibition booths there was a nearly audible collective sigh of relief that the campaign was not going to follow in the footsteps of Australia's two previous efforts.
A few years ago the "Australia, Have You Ever?" campaign was the most successful ever for the country. But the response from the marketplace to the "Where the Bloody Hell Are You?" campaign seemed to be "What the bloody hell are you talking about?" And the more recent "Australia in a Different Light" campaign was just a patch thrown together to rescue the country from the "Bloody Hell" campaign until something new could be devised. This time, however, Australian officials are expressing confidence that they have a slogan they will be able to work with for a few years.
The statement "There's Nothing Like Australia" is a self-evident truth. Can anyone deny that a country with kangaroos, koalas, crocodiles and platypuses is not unique in the world? Say what you will about Australia, you have to admit that it is unlike any other place.
That particular brand of uniqueness is a great asset in the U.S. market, where Australia enjoys a high level of appreciation. Something about Australia fires the American imagination. There's an undeniable kinship between the two countries. Australia seems to remind Americans of their own frontier past. The daring bush pilots, the scruffy outback adventurers, Crocodile Dundee and Ned Kelly are all characters that endear Australia to Americans.
The unpretentiousness of the country, founded as a penal colony, where the standard language sounds more like the Cockney accent of a Dickens' "down and outer" than the Queen's English, resonates strongly in the American imagination. Indeed, the Australian accent has such a colorful resonance for Americans that it can be used to sell products as mundane as car insurance. Australia has no image problems in the U.S.
It's an axiom in the Australian tourism industry that Americans consistently place Australia at the top of their lists of travel aspirations, but few actually make the leap from aspiration to action. That conversion has long been the central objective of the Australian travel industry. There is always hope lurking among Australian tourism officials for an explosion in U.S. visitors to Australia. In fact that is happening incrementally. The travel horizons of Americans are expanding as they gradually become aware of the accessibility of destinations like Australia that once seemed out of reach.
Until projects like Virgin Galactic space travel get off the ground, however, Australia is still a long-haul destination for Americans. From California, the flight is roughly 14 hours. My flight from New York it was about 20 hours in the air and another four on the ground in Los Angeles and Sydney before I made it to Adelaide, where this year's ATE was held. And that doesn't count the time getting to the airport, getting through security, and the baggage claim and transfer at the end.
Still, modern air travel makes possible a trip to the other side of the world with a relative minimum of physical discomfort. Australia's tourism industry is hoping more and more Americans will wake up to this fact, as well as to what awaits them if they do in fact take the leap and visit Australia. "People travel to experience a difference," says Andrew McEvoy, managing director of Tourism Australia. "And I do think as a destination we are somewhat exotic. We are different."
Indeed, for travelers seeking a different experience, Australia is extremely well-positioned. For Americans, Australia is like a world turned upside down, with kangaroos and wallabies offering a fascinating and pleasantly peculiar destination.
Tourism Australia commissioned the writing of a song based on the slogan and presented it with great fanfare at a press conference. When I first heard "There's Nothing Like Australia," however, I was a little let down. "Is that it?" I thought. It was certainly no great once-in-a-lifetime melody like "Yesterday." It was more on the order of "Yellow Submarine."
Then I realized that in itself is the genius of the song. It's so simple anyone can sing it. I recalled an interview with Neil Young in which he discussed his song "Let's Impeach the President." Young said that the song was set to a melody everyone has already heard, so they could join right in. When you are writing a song, you want it to become an anthem. Simplicity, even obviousness, is what you want. And Australia's new "song" is certainly easy to grasp instantly.
The fact that "There's Nothing Like Australia" was impressed upon me even more as I visited the outback after the trade show as a guest of Tourism NT, the destination marketing organization for Australia's Northern Territory. I visited two very different outback destinations, Bamaru Tented Camp and Bollo River Station, and it strengthened my sense that Australia already has all the brand identity it needs in America.
Tourism Australia's McEvoy understands that. He told me that he sees his tourism group's role not as branding the destination, but "to trade off the good feeling about our country and to build more knowledge and understanding about how you do it now."
So Australia's tourism industry now finds itself in a good groove. With the nightmare year of 2009 behind it, and the economy of the world rebuilding again, Australia is looking at a much more hopeful horizon. And Tourism Australia knows what a valuable asset it has in the image Australia has earned for itself just for being the quirky, crazy and gorgeous place that it truly is.
David Cogswell is executive editor covering tours and destinations for TravelPulse.com.
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