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Get to know John O’Sullivan, Managing Director of Tourism Australia

Feb 22, 2019

“Australian tourism has grown from strength-to-strength in recent years to the point where we are now welcoming more than 9 million international visitors annually, generating $43.2 billion in spending.” – John O’Sullivan, Managing Director of Tourism Australia speaking exclusively to Williams Media and The Hotel Conversation.

John O’Sullivan joined Tourism Australia as the organisation’s Managing Director in March 2014.

In the four years since joining Tourism Australia, John has successfully overseen the evolution of the organisation’s award winning global campaign There’s nothing like Australia – from its food and wine focused Restaurant Australia campaign (launched in 2014) to the emotive Aquatic and Coastal campaign (2016). Most recently, John has led the organisation for the launch of its biggest ever campaign for the US market with the ‘Dundee: The Son of a Legend Returns’ at the 2018 Super Bowl.

During his time at Tourism Australia, John has also focused on growing the organisation’s partnership marketing effort and partner contributions to more than $65 million annually whilst also transforming the organisation’s digital capabilities to reflect changing consumer behaviours and to better tackle conversion challenges.

Click here to view the Tourism Australia website.

How did you get in to the tourism and hospitality sector?

Like many, I got my start in tourism and hospitality whilst I was studying at uni. It was at the Mayfair Crest Hotel in Brisbane, under the legendary Doug Ryan, where I worked as a porter and as a functions’ waiter.

What are some of your career highlights in your time with Tourism Australia?

A highlight for me has been working with industry to see Australian tourism grow from strength-to-strength as it nears its Tourism 2020 strategy goals of growing overnight visitor expenditure to more than $115 billion annually by the end of the decade.

It has been an exciting time to be at Tourism Australia and to be delivering the organisation’s strategies to align with these long-term goals for growth – through our international marketing for leisure and business events in partnership with industry as well as our tourism investment strategy in partnership with Austrade.

What is your 10-year game plan with Tourism Australia?

Australian tourism has grown from strength-to-strength in recent years to the point where we are now welcoming more than 9 million international visitors annually, generating $43.2 billion in spending. Importantly, this growth has sparked new products and experiences around the country for visitors to enjoy.

However, alongside this strong performance we are seeing some impacts of both geo political factors as well as changing consumer behaviours and perceptions, which have the potential to impact our operating environment in the immediate future.

The world of tourism and travel has become increasingly competitive and our target customers harder to reach in an increasingly disrupted and cluttered media environment. For a destination like Australia to compete in the global market – when we have factors such as time, distance and the associated costs to counter – we need to be able to cut-through with high impact campaigns that not only get the attention of our target customers but also inspire them to book a trip to Australia.

For us it is about doing fewer things but with more dollars, in the right channels, with the right message and with the support of distribution partners – that’s how we can make a bigger impact as we have seen with the ‘Dundee’ campaign in 2018 and now with ‘UnDiscover Australia’ which has been rolling out in South East Asia.

Longer term, tourism has always been a strong performing sector of our economy and I am excited about the prospects of our industry in the broader Australian economy. There is a very real possibility that our visitor economy will surpass 10 million visitors annually in the coming years and so for Tourism Australia it is about putting in place the building blocks which will enable our industry to continue to grow international visitation and spend, and ensuring we have the product and experiences to meet the changing needs of our customers.

What key drivers will bolster the Australian tourism market to our Asian neighbours over the coming years?

Australia is a highly desirable destination for travellers across our key international markets, particularly in Asia. The key motivating factors for choosing Australia include our world-class natural beauty, including incredible aquatic and coastal experiences, our exceptional food and wine offering, as well as our friendly and welcoming people.

These are the kinds of experiences that are motivating visitors from Asia to experience Australia. However, in our maturing markets across Asia we have been introducing lesser known and less familiar experiences through the launch of our recent ‘UnDiscover Australia’ campaign which seeks to inspire travellers to discover new and motivating reasons to visit Australia.

What changes would you like to see over the next 2 to 5 years in the tourism industry?

Whilst Australia is highly desirable to travellers and has an amazing tourism offering to take to the world, we also know that Australia also faces some notable consumers challenges around fashionability, low urgency to visit and around the perceived complexity of our tourism offering.

When you couple this with an increasingly cluttered marketing environment it makes the job of cutting through to move consumers towards purchase all the more challenging. From a tourism marketing perspective, the changes that would make a difference would be to overcome some of the complexity with a fewer, bigger, better approach to how we do things. Then it would be about having the right mix of new and evolving existing product to give Australia new news and new reasons for people to visit.

What is your favourite hotel and holiday destination?

It is hard to say because I have a number of favourites… I really love a good summer beach holiday which I have strong memories of growing up and afternoon walks along the beach with my parents in summer. More recently, I have had some great beach holidays on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, the mid north coast of NSW and in Margaret River in WA. And, for golf holidays I really enjoy Tassie.

SourceThe Hostel Conversation