Source: The Sun-Herald
A bold campaign to draw international tourists also needs to work in the backyard, writes Danielle Teutsch.
When Baz Luhrmann was filming Australia he set up camp outside Kununurra, by a saltwater crocodile infested river. Luhrmann had only planned to stay a night in his caravan, to be on set early the next day, but ended up staying there for the whole five weeks of filming in the area.
"I was really, really wrung out from the experience of making the film," Luhrmann said at a press conference last week unveiling his role in Tourism Australia's new $50 million marketing campaign.
For the globetrotting film director, the sojourn was an epiphany of sorts - a chance to be "still" and reconnect with his homeland.
Tourism Australia is hoping the ads that Luhrmann creates will evoke the kind of emotional reaction that will have tourists from Asia, North America and Europe here in droves looking for the same kind of "transformative personal experience".
As Luhrmann says: " People are looking for authenticity. That's the big shift in travel. Increasingly, it's hard to go to a place where there's a genuine emotional experience."
There's no doubting his sincerity and enthusiasm for the project of selling Australia. He recently went on his first trip to Tasmania, describing Bruny Island as "un-be-liev-able".
"If you have not done that trip, you have to. People talk about New Zealand but you've got to talk about Tasmania".
Luhrmann added: "The big mission is to get people to choose Australia".
But the bigger challenge might be getting Australians to choose Australia - to redress the slump in domestic tourism.
Luhrmann's ads will be shown here, as well as overseas, timed to start screening a month before the movie's November release. Tourism bodies are desperately hoping that Luhrmann's creative magic works wonders at home as much as it does in Korea or Ireland.
Geoff Buckley, managing director of Tourism Australia, says: "We are trying to get Australians to fall in love with Australia again.
"We see [the campaign] resonating in Australia just as much as anywhere else."
Luhrmann has described the ads as a "contemporary" take on the movie, which is set in 1930s outback Australia and filmed in the north Queensland town of Bowen, as well as Kununurra and Darwin. The ads will feature the 11-year-old Aboriginal star of the film, Brandon Walters, but not its leads Nicole Kidman or Hugh Jackman. The ads will be about a New York couple escaping to Australia and being transformed by the wilderness.
But how convincing will that be, when Australians are increasingly turning their backs on local travel, lured by cheap holiday packages, a stronger US dollar and higher disposable income?
Australians are neglecting the traditional family holiday road trip to places such as Gulgong, Mildura and Broken Hill in favour of more action-packed or exotic options: resort package deals in Bali and Fiji; river cruising in Europe and shopping trips in Los Angeles. "Australians are taking the opportunity to get out and see the world," Buckley says.
The statistics speak for themselves: from 2004, there has been a steady climb in the number of Aussies holidaying overseas, with New Zealand, Britain, the US, Thailand, Indonesia, China and Singapore, Italy and Fiji among the top-10 destinations. The number of short-term resident departures jumped by 9.2per cent between May 2007 and 2008 alone, Bureau of Statistics figures show.
Tourism Australia's forecast is for the number of Australians headed overseas to grow faster than the number of domestic tourism visits between now and 2016 (5.2 per cent a year compared to 1.6 per cent).
But there is a ray of hope. National Parks and Wildlife Services head Sally Barnes said there were increasing numbers "experience seekers", hungry for a nature-based holiday. Australia, with its pristine wilderness areas and rugged bushland, could offer that. "They [experience seekers] want to get out and rough it, meet the locals and have a cultural experience," she says.
Buckley isn't expecting that a well-crafted ad is going to make Australians cancel their next holiday in Phuket in favour of a trip to Coffs Harbour.
"We are not looking for Australians to stop going overseas," he says. "It's more about saying that there's a real opportunity to come back to what it is that Australia offers. Australia is a fantastic place to find ourselves again."
Do You Want The Truth or Something Beautiful?