Tourism and business events operators should realise that Australia’s first-world facilities, clean environment and friendly people collectively represent a magnificent advantage, says the MD of Tourism Australia.

Siteseer: You’re on record recently as saying that tourism is growing faster than the Australian economy. Does the same apply, in your view, to business tourism and the events industry?

John O’Sullivan: Australian tourism continues to go from strength to strength and is growing three times faster than the Australian economy overall. Our industry has a shared long-term goal to grow overnight visitor expenditure, currently at $97.1 billion, to more than $115 billion annually by the end of the decade as part of the Tourism 2020 plan. Business events are obviously a key contributor to the visitor economy – and for our long-term goals for growth, with the average traveller for business events spending three times as much as a leisure visitor.

All indications from our industry point to robust demand for Australia. In particular we know of a number of large incentive program [organisers] from China who have recently chosen Australia for their events, including NuSkin and Amway.

SS: Are you satisfied that aviation capacity is sufficient to meet demand for inbound business?

JOS: Aviation capacity is vital for an island nation like Australia. In fact it was identified that Australia’s international aviation seat capacity would need to grow by 40% to 50% and domesticwould need a 20% to 30% increase to achieve our Tourism 2020 targets. Already we’ve achieved 66% of the growth needed, tracking 10% ahead of the original forecast growth.

John O'Sullivan Sydney HarbourThis is a consequence of having a very strong aviation development focus – to increase capacity and services on existing routes and to support the introduction of new routes. We’ve seen significant aviation growth out of a number of markets, notably China, and the opening of new routes such as the recently introduced Singapore-to-Canberra services by Singapore Airlines, which help foster international business to the city.

SS: Do you believe Australian hotels and meetings facilities represent good value for money for local and international events and incentive organisers?

JOS: Yes, an Australian-held business event delivers above and beyond the expectations of planners, time and time again. Our industry’s ability to tailor-make itineraries and events, together with our exceptional facilities, unique wildlife and excellent food and wine combine to provide great value for money for incentive planners.

Alongside this, as part of the Tourism 2020 strategy, there is strong focus attracting tourism investment. Tourism Australia works in partnership with Austrade to this end, to ensure we have adequate accommodation and facilities in Australia to [cater for] the increasing numbers of international visitors to our shores.

SS: What, in relation to the MICE sector specifically, do you regard as some of TA’s most significant recent achievements? 

JOS: For the association market we’ve recently been highlighting Australia’s knowledge sectors and innovative people through our content strategy. And we’re seeing some great feedback on this from international buyers. We recently launched Australia Innovates, the magazine which brings these stories together, at IMEX America to strong interest. In the incentive space, we held our Dreamtime showcase in Adelaide in December 2015, hosting over 100 international business events buyers and media and demonstrating why there’s nothing like Australia for business events. The show was a great success, reaching over 25 million people through media coverage, and [generating] several confirmed pieces of business for Australia.

SS: The new International Convention Centre Sydney has been the subject of much publicity. How important is it for the industry and Australia generally?

JOS: The ICC Sydney, on track to open in December 2016, is significant and will assist in attracting future business events to Sydney and Australia. In fact it will be crucial to Australia’s business events future and help us to succeed, with its offering of the largest exhibition space in Australia and an international convention centre that can collectively host more than 12,000 delegates. The entire precinct has been revitalised with new retail and dining facilities, public spaces plus new hotels in the pipeline. That’s also going to generate huge benefit for Australia.

SS: You’re well-known for using social media successfully; how effective has this been, in your view, and what key lessons have you and your colleagues have learned in this respect that might be useful for events organisers?

JOS: We’ve successfully used social media to engage with the leisure travel market through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter along with WeChat and Sina Weibo.

John O'Sullivan 2015From an events perspective we’ve used social media for delegates to share their experiences of our events such as the Australian Tourism Exchange, for the leisure sector, and Dreamtime, for the business events sector, while also using it to share our news announcements from these events with delegates and a wider audience. LinkedIn, too, has been a great tool for business event [organisers] to share insights and information with stakeholders. The key thing we’ve learned is really about making the content relevant to the audience, and inspiring.

SS: There’s been much publicity recently (such as the annual survey) about the stellar growth in China tourism. What do Chinese MICE travellers like best about Australia and what should operators be doing to engage them effectively?

JOS: They enjoy Australia’s beauty, in particular our natural environments and their proximity to urban centres. Australia’s seafood and wine, as well as the quality and variety of our food offering, are highly valued by Chinese travellers. Our wildlife, clear open skies and friendly people also appeal. Relationships are key in the China market. It’s important to invest the time and energy to develop these in order to operate effectively and grow your business.


As Managing Director of the nation’s global tourism marketing agency, John is responsible for driving Tourism Australia’s strategies to increase demand for Australian tourism experiences and grow the sector. John joined Tourism Australia in March 2014. He was previously Chief Operating Officer of Fox Sports, and has held executive positions with Events Queensland (Chief Executive) and Football Federation Australia (Chief Commercial Officer), as well as with the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Organising Committee.

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