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11 key takeaways from the 2021 Victorian Tourism Conference

By May 1, 2021 Stories

Move over Zoom and Microsoft Teams, Melbourne just hosted its first IRL conference since COVID and the energy in the building was electric.

While the Victorian Tourism Conference was titled “Shaping the future of Victorian tourism” the presentations and conversations also provided a platform to reflect on learnings from the past year.

More importantly, for most of the 800 people in attendance, it was a chance to move beyond the computer screen and connect with industry partners face-to-face, some, for the first time.

With over 20 presentations at the Victorian Tourism Conference, there was a bucket load of learnings and lightbulb moments – here’s our top 11.

1. Live more in rainforests than banana plantations

While futurist and keynote speaker, Chris Riddel, may have been the final presentation of the Victorian Tourism Conference, his lightbulb moment – rainforests are dangerous places but banana plantations are predictable – was one of our biggest takeaways.

He explained you can walk into a rainforest, be bitten by a venomous snake and never come out alive. However, rainforests are also where you could find a small, yet-to-be-discovered spider that could cure cancer.

In business terms, rainforests are where entrepreneurs live, because it’s where you can break all the rules, where you seek fairness, not advantage, and where you can experiment and learn (to name a few).

On the other hand, banana plantations are predictable – each one is the same and the mentality and physical requirements to create a banana plantation follow the same guidelines.

Too many businesses live in banana plantations, where you have to be right every time, be perfect, and be great at your job rather than having the authority to rethink everything and innovate.

2. It’s time to be strategic

Throughout the conference, there was one theme that echoed through each presentation: 2020 was the year of agility. 2021 is the year of strategy.

Speakers shared how last year forced them to stay agile and be open to change rather than follow one strategic plan.

Craig Tilley – CEO of Tennis Australia – shared how he swapped the word strategy for scenarios, planning for what could happen rather than having one specific strategy for hosting the Australian Open at the start of 2021.

As an industry, now is the time when tourism organisations can start to put a strategy in place, after spending over 12 months being reactive to the ever-changing tourism industry.

3. Traveller confidence is growing

The words every tourism organisation has been dreaming to hear – traveller confidence is growing!

Michelle Levine – Roy Morgan CEO – shared how consumer confidence to travel is moving along the same trajectory as the intention to travel.

However, Matthew Burke – Regional Manager for Pacific, STR – pointed out current lead times are still sitting at around 14 days.

So, while traveller intentions and confidence are growing, don’t expect a flood of bookings for three, six or 12 months in advance.

4. Ask your customers what they want

Ever thought to ask your customers what they want when planning new products, services or experiences?

That’s exactly what Shane Delia – Restauranteur and Founder of Delia Group and Providoor (aka Maha, Biggie Smalls) did when he had to rethink his business when lockdown hit.

Unsure where to take the direction of his business when he closed the doors of his network of restaurants, he reached out to his database and asked them what they wanted.

The result: Providoor. A mulit-million dollar e-commerce business (delivering food from Melbourne’s best restaurants to consumer’s doors – and a saviour through Melbourne’s lockdown).

5. Rethink how you communicate with your customers

Tourism operators, listen up.

Want to increase pre-booked services at your establishment (think dinner, tour or spa bookings), limit the amount of pre-arrival questions from guests or generate reviews?

This is exactly what a Victorian-based accommodation provider achieved using timely emails.

Want an insight into what they did?

  • Seven days before guests arrived, they sent an email to advise customers about the other services they offered, such as in-house dinners or tours and saw an uplift of 30% in pre-booked dinners.
  • Three days before the guest arrived, they sent a pre-arrival email advising them of check-in procedures and what to expect upon arrival. This resulted in a 90% reduction in pre-arrival questions and queries.
  • At the end of the stay, they sent a thank you email with a direct link to invite guests to leave a review, which resulted in a 26% increase in reviews.

Simple, right?

6. You heard it at the Victorian Tourism Conference first – Instagram is becoming a search engine

Hot off the press in the tech world, Instagram has been upgrading its search functionality where users can search by keywords, not just hashtags. Hello, social media SEO.

We’ve been told it’s still work-in-progress, so there’s no need to re-write your content marketing strategy just yet, but something to keep in mind with captions.

We did some further research on this, and you can read about it here.

7. Don’t underestimate your story

“Nothing is interesting about our [place/product/service],” *overheard* from way too many tourism operators or destinations we’ve worked with over the years.

As a marketing agency, we have heard this more times than we’ve ordered I Heart Brownies, and anyone following our social media knows that’s a lot.

During a panel discussion, Shae Keenan – CMO of Visit Victoria – reminded the room that “your story is interesting, don’t think your story doesn’t count”. Praise be Shae – thank you!

8. Be more like a brown rat

Ever heard of a Rattus Norvegius?

Commonly known as a brown rat or common rat, this mammal is known to eat the weakest of her litter to ensure longevity for the rest.

Speaker Mark Ritson believes businesses and brands should adopt the brown rat mentality to their products, services or experiences.

Rather than having an extensive offering for your customers, why not focus all your marketing efforts on the best performers and cut the rest.

He spoke about how Unilever adopted this approach – from having over 4,000 products in the portfolio in the 80’s to now just 400, they remain one of the biggest companies in the world.

9. Your strategy should fit on a single page

Throw out the 40-page document. It’s time to rethink strategy.

Develop three or four smart and simple objectives to lead your strategy.

Apply the same Rattus Norvegius approach to your strategy and keep it tight with fewer things carrying more impact.

*Marketers block your ears* Mark Ritson went as far as to say forget looking for a USP and focus on two things: awareness and association.

What are you doing to create awareness and what are you doing to help your customers feel connected (associated) with your product, service or experience?

10. Victorian Tourism Conference says don’t turn off the lights

This is something we witnessed a lot through COVID, brands and businesses turning off communication and going dark.

When it comes to brand building, it’s vital a business or brand keeps the lights on – even during a pandemic.

Why? Because keeping the lights on allows for achieving long-term brand-building strategies.

It’s fair to re-evaluate short-term brand-building strategies, such as promotions or marketing activations, but staying visible is key to reaping the rewards of a strong brand awareness years down the track.

11. Get your digital assets in order

Let’s talk about websites.

If you’re serious about SEO or improving your ranking on Google, there are things you need to do to move up the ladder organically.

Catherine and Stephen Toms from the Digital Marketing Institute shared some essentials every business needs to have in place if it wants to be visible organically.

  • Make sure your website is secure. If your web address doesn’t start with HTTPS then you need to make this a priority
  • Your website needs to have a fast load time – attention spans are reducing to two to three seconds
  • It needs to be easy to navigate
  • It needs to be mobile friendly – with 79% of people now searching on mobile
  • You need to beef up your backlinks – which third-party or partner websites are linking back to your website?

In addition to how responsive your digital assets are, My Business should be every business’ best friend.

Don’t neglect to respond to those reviews as Google will give you a virtual frown and affect your ranking.

Psst – for ideas on how you can develop your organic assets, check out these resources we prepared earlier:

 Were you at the conference? Let us know below what were your main takeaways from the two-day event?