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News Analysis 5 Oct 2020 - 3 min read

South Australia Tourism marketing boss Brent Hill on flipping to digital, social and back; harnessing e-commerce to power out of Covid

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

South Australian Tourism marketing boss Brent Hill: “We saw a strong double-digit level of traffic [growth] coming through to the site and a similar level of click-through to external business owners’ sites."

Brent Hill says South Australia's tourism media spend is returning to an even split following a 80:20 pivot to digital as Covid brought down the shutters - and led the state to redistribute its marketing budget to aid impacted local businesses. Now more of them are afloat to bear the fruit of local tourism - and he says it's vital to keep the momentum.

What you need to know:
  • Usually taking a 50:50 media spend mix, Hill went 80:20 performance to brand during lockdown.
  • SA Tourism also converted a portion of its marketing budget into grants of $10,000, which were donated to struggling businesses within the state
  • Hill says the strategy was to ensure that operators had a better chance of seeing out lockdowns and remaining solvent
  • Also pushed external businesses in 'direct-to-consumer' model via dedicated SA TV platform
  • From May, SATC began promoting internal state tourism, generating a $70m bounce back in spend from May-July
  • Hill says a key post-Covid challenge has been adjusting messaging state-by-state based on border restriction changes
  • He says each state has required timed and staggered messaging, with NSW only set to see the first stage of its latest campaign, while other states are seeing the latest iteration.

 

Out of the frying pan

After the bushfires, South Australia was gearing up to welcome tourists back.

Its campaign #letsbookthemout was gaining momentum and by February vacancy rates in key regions of the state were at capacity.

By March, all bets were off.

“The impact has been two-fold. The brutal commercial impacts and the way it’s hit people at a personal level,” Hill says.

“We’ve been up and down, putting together marketing strategies to address one disaster only to be met with another.”

Hill says diverting marketing budget to help businesses stand a better chance of surviving the economic carnage was a critical lifeline.

In any case, tourism was forced to “go dark” when it came to media, given restrictions. However, it wasn’t a complete black out.

The marketing team shifted from its usual 50:50 split between above the line and digital media, moving 30% of the traditional budget into digital.

It used some of that budget to create SA TV, a dedicated platform on the South Australian tourism website taking viewers virtually through the state until they could “physically be welcomed back”.

Including tours, classes with the likes of chef Maggie Beer and interviews with local business owners, SA TV was also used heavily to promote private operators within the state.

“We saw a strong double-digit level of traffic [growth] coming through to the site and a similar level of click-through to external business owners’ sites,” Hill says.

“That’s what we need to be: a promotional tool not just for ourselves but those who make up the wider tourism industry.”

Hill says the success of the platform was evident when states such as Victoria began adopting a similar strategy.

“Victoria began urging people to support local businesses through a direct-to-consumer campaign called ‘Click for Vic’, which was very similar to what we launched,” Hill says.

“It’s been a very rewarding element of the whole journey, to see how marketing can expand beyond simply the brand you’re promoting.”

To further support the local tourism industry, Hill says a significant chunk of SA Tourism's marking budget was converted into $10,000 grants tourism businesses.

“We’ve never really done something like that before, but we knew there was going to be business that were immediately going to struggle to keep their head above water,” Hill says.

“The budget normally would be spent in above the line campaigns pushing people towards those regions or operators, so it made sense to fund them directly.”

 

Back in action…again

With border re-openings at different stages, Hill says SATC’s current marketing campaign is similarly staggered, and the brand must manage its roll out state-by-state.

“It's difficult to run the same creative nation-wider,” Hill says.

“This is where digital has become an increasingly valuable part of our marketing mix, allowing us to keep tourists update on state-specific information regarding travel.”

However, Hill says the marketing mix is beginning to return to “normality”.

The team is placing investment back into traditional above the line media, with OOH and radio receiving additional spend in key states.

He says the challenge has been balancing the level of spend on above the line channels with their impact based on ongoing lockdown restrictions.

“Here in South Australia, particularly in Adelaide, we’re back on the roads more frequently, similar to what we see in Queensland and WA,” Hill says.

“That means we’re more inclined to move out spend back to a 50/50 split. However, in Victoria and NSW, we know there is still limited movement and have to adjust the mix accordingly.”

Hill remains optimistic when it comes to tourism domestically, especially as NSW borders re-open and summer holiday bookings increase.

He suggests a $70m “bounce back” locally in South Australian tourism spend between May and July proves people are equally hungry to return to all that the state has to offer.

“This is where we need to keep active, push the messaging of ‘Welcome Back’ in NSW and eventually Victoria, as we move into out ‘Great State’ campaign in Queensland and WA,” Hill says.

“It’s good to see that flight operators and registering a quick return to airline bookings as well and proves that our decision to not ‘go dark’ and support tourism locally has worked.”

Jetstar has been a major contributor to the increased interest in travel between NSW and South Australia.

The budget airline operator has slashed the cost of 5,000 airfares between the states, as low as $59 one-way earlier this month.

“There’s still plenty of interest and while we remain cautiously optimistic, it’s vital we don’t slow down our efforts and lose the level of brand equity we’ve built during this period,” says Hill.

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Josh McDonnell

Senior Writer

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