One of the world’s foremost travel entrepreneurs has hit out at Tourism Australia for its erratic marketing strategy, calling on tourism bosses to exploit our indigenous history to attract more visitors.
Bruce Poon Tip, CEO of Gap Adventures, is in Australia for this year’s Global Eco Conference in Noosa. He’s unimpressed with what he’s seen of the Australian market, calling Tourism Australia “naive” when it comes to promoting eco tourism and indigenous attractions.
“Australia has such an amazing indigenous history, most countries would be jealous to have what you have and they do nothing with it,” he told Crikey in an interview this week. He’s become somewhat of a tourism Svengali since starting Gap Adventures in 1990, courted by world leaders and the United Nations for his sustainable tourism vision.
Poon Tip says Australia has “so many assets and so much to offer” — which is part of the problem for Tourism Australia.
“It’s an ADHD approach to a marketing campaign. The last ad, with all the people saying ‘There’s nothing like… Australia!’, I wanted to stand up and cheer with an Australian flag in hand. It was very patriotic, very American. And those Baz Luhrmann ads were just confusing.”
Touring boards focus on obvious stereotypes, he says: beaches, sunshine, the Sydney Opera House, and increasingly food and wine — things that are easy to advertise but leave many travellers wanting more. Indigenous tourism is a niche market and “the problem with niche is that niche needs finessing. It’s a finicky product, it’s not low-hanging fruit”.
But customers who are interested in cultural immersion are smart, savvy, sophisticated travellers who are interested in sustainability and helping communities and are willing to spend. Poon Tip is an advocate for the tourist dollar being invested back into community opportunities.
Gap Adventures foundation Planeterra helps the communities where it takes tourists: setting up a women’s weaving co-op in Peru to provide jobs and help maintain traditional weaving techniques, buying and building wheelchairs in Cambodia for landmine victims, plans to open an eyesight centre in Cambodia.
He applauds the recent establishment of a Indigenous Tourism Advisory Panel by the Australian Tourism Export Council, but says the program needs more than money thrown at it. Local communities need mentoring in what and how to market their tourist attractions, he says.
Poon Tip also lauds Tourism Victoria’s “You’ll love every piece of Victoria” campaign, because it allows space for cultural events and attractions to fit in alongside the beaches and sunshine stereotypes.