Australians: unhelpful, unreliable and untrustworthy?

Brand Australia needs work ... a scene from Tourism Australia's "There's Nothing Like Australia" campaign.
Brand Australia needs work ... a scene from Tourism Australia's "There's Nothing Like Australia" campaign. 

The advertising and marketing industry is swarming over new data on how the rest of the world’s tourists and would-be tourists see destination Australia. But, as the spin gurus are finding out, it’s a hard sell because of the disconnection between the product and the price.

Australia has always been a relatively high-priced destination compared with its competitors in the Asia-Pacific region, but, in the past three years, the explosion in the value of the Australian dollar, which is now worth more than an American dollar, have figuratively stripped the product naked.

Nowadays, what you see is what you get – at $US1.03 instead of 70 cents or less to the greenback. Australia is one of the most expensive places on the planet for locals and visitors alike, driving the locals offshore.

Russel Howcroft of Y&R Brands says foreign perceptions of Australia aren't encouraging.
Russel Howcroft of Y&R Brands says foreign perceptions of Australia aren't encouraging. Photo: Louie Douvis

Who’d have thought America would become a cheap shopping destination for Australians?

For foreigners looking in from the outside, Australia has become a premium brand at a premium price, which means they have become much more attentive to the dollars and cents they’re being asked to part with to come here.

Russel Howcroft, the national chief executive of a group of companies called Y&R Brands, told the National Tourism and Events Excellence Conference at the MCG in Melbourne the results of new global research on Brand Australia weren’t particularly encouraging.

The world looked upon Australians as unhelpful, unreliable and untrustworthy and holidays here were considered poor quality and bad value for money, Howcroft said.

The research indicated that, while Americans see Aussies as carefree and rugged, they don’t think Australians deliver quality or good value. Chinese think we’re “stylish and classy”, but not very helpful. Indians feel Aussies are daring but also arrogant. The Brits see us as “charming and independent”, but untrustworthy.

Using marketing lingo, Howcroft said 80 per cent of foreign markets viewed Australia as “different”, 60 per cent had knowledge of the country, half thought Australia was relevant to them but only 30 per cent held Australia in high esteem.

Howcroft, however, has an upbeat assessment because, he says, just visiting Australia can reverse negative perceptions.

For me, it’s the poor value for money criticism that cuts deepest and points to Australia’s most urgent problem. If you’re charging more than your product’s worth, you either have to cut the price or increase the value of the product.

Sellers of Australian tourism product don’t want to cut the price because of the high costs they face. So they must increase the quality of the product, which is where the whole equation breaks down.

For the money being asked, the quality of the product just isn’t up to it, according to much of the feedback I’ve been getting for years. The locals know it. The marketers are now just catching up with the fact that visitors see it as well.

So much of the “product” is what we call service. It’s not rocket surgery. In my opinion, too many people in the customer service side of tourism are being dragged in off the street without specialist training. And it just doesn’t cut it for the industry to be whingeing about the mining industry stealing all its best staff.

It’s time for action to make the product fit the price tag.

In your travels around Australia, are you noticing an improvement in the service? Are there standout examples of great “tourism product” that are perhaps not as appreciated as they should be? What are the key negatives that you believe need to be fixed?

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