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Australia, you’ve got it wrong: airline boss says tourism campaign’s a dud

Sydney Morning Herald, 25 July 2012

Australia needs to rethink its sales pitch to Asian tourists who believe a holiday here is too expensive because of the way the country is marketed in Asia, the head of Malaysia's budget airline, AirAsia X, says.

Giving an outsider's perspective of Australia's latest ad campaign, Azran Osman-Rani said Australia's tourism industry needed to be more tactical in convincing Asians to travel here for holidays, rather than relying on a "very strong brand campaign that might seem out of reach for a lot of people".

Tourism Australia last month launched a $180 million global advertising campaign overseas for the first time, choosing Shanghai as the stage for it in an effort to tap into China's emerging middle class.

"They will think, 'That is just not me – that is beyond me,'" he said at an aviation conference in Sydney today. "A good brand campaign simply isn't enough. You get awareness … but there is a lack of conversion to actually get people to want to come."

Mr Osman-Rani, a former cable television executive in Malaysia, said the tourism campaign would make many "Australians very, very proud to see Australia being showcased" but "it is going to be a tough sell" to convince Asian tourists to travel here.

He believed the Australian tourism industry should focus on "more basic stuff" such as the top 10 things to do in Sydney or Melbourne, or emphasising the friendliness of the locals or the closer proximity of Australia to Asia than a European destination.

"Australia has got a lot going for it but it often doesn't get communicated clearly," he said. "The reality is today that competition for tourists is a lot more intense."

AirAsia X plans to double flights to Australia within the next two years as it boosts its fleet of twin-aisle A330s from 11 to 25. In April, the airline launched daily flights between Sydney and the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur after years of lobbying regulators for the right to fly here.

The long-haul budget airline, an offshoot of Asia's largest low-cost airline AirAsia, also flies to Melbourne, the Gold Coast and Perth, making Australia the source of 30 per cent of its revenue.

Mr Osman-Rani said today that the airline would focus on increasing flight frequencies to Australia before it considered beginning services to a fifth destination here.

Adelaide is considered the most likely to be next destination in Australia for AirAsia X.

Tourism Australia's managing director, Andrew McEvoy, rejected Mr Osman-Rani's views, questioning whether the airline chief had seen the whole campaign.

"For Mr Osman-Rani's to say that our campaign is out of reach of Asian tourists is an interesting assertion, given the record-breaking number of visitors to Australia from the region," he said in a statement. "The new ad is hitting the mark and proving a massive hit in Asia, viewed by 20 million people in China alone since being launched just six weeks ago in Shanghai."

Mr McEvoy said that with the latest phase of the campaign Tourism Australia was "unapologetically putting our best foot forward, and focusing on Australia's unique and most distinctive tourism products and experiences that we know can compete with the finest in the world."

"AirAsia X certainly seems to be doing well off the back of this great image of Australia given their rapid growth and further expansion plans," he said.

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