The runaway success of "the best job in the world" campaign by Tourism Queensland won't have escaped the attention of anyone in tourism. From an investment of just £1.2 million, the authority generated more than £59 million in publicity value as the media fell in love with the story of a job interview for someone to look after a picture-perfect island for six months on a salary of £73,500.
"'The best job in the world' campaign surpassed even our expectations," Anthony Hayes, the Tourism Queensland chief executive, says. He adds that the campaign exceeded its expected number of web hits and publicity value within four weeks of a 12-month run.
The even bigger publicity boost received when Ben Southall beat 34,000 applicants to be named the successful candidate last month must have been an even more pleasant surprise.
But what the campaign demonstrates is that, above all, in tourism promotion, as with most marketing, what matters is a big idea.
So, in the wake of this ground-breaking campaign, which won Grands Prix in the PR and Direct categories at Cannes, many in the advertising of tourist destinations are drawing lessons from it and wondering if it can be replicated.
Many leading country destinations are changing their advertising strategies (see boxes) in the straitened economic climate and as tourism experiences a slump.
The decision to do so comes amid a gloomy backdrop for tourism. Figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation show that after four years of consecutive growth, the industry corrected sharply last year, shrinking from a growth of 7 per cent in 2007 to just 2 per cent in 2008.
In its World Tourism Barometer report, the UNWTO unsurprisingly said there would be no reversal of this downward trend in 2009.
So as the shrinking world economy impacts upon tourism, how will the world's most desirable holiday destinations react?
An obvious strategy change is to target tourists from your home market. Although Britain is expected to see a rise in holidays at home, there are plenty of countries also seeking to attract the tourist dollar from neighbours just over the border or within easy reach.
Egypt is a good example. The country's tourism department began a crisis ad campaign earlier this year based on the fact that tour operators and agencies predicted a fall in tourism receipts of between 15 per cent and 30 per cent in 2009 as a result of the economic downturn.
The campaign, run by DDB Travel & Tourism and called "Egypt: closer than you think", targets tourists within five hours' travel of Egypt. The strategy is based on research that indicates tourists tend to travel shorter distances during periods of financial uncertainty. This is already in evidence as a trend in markets such as France, where bookings from residents "holidaying at home" are on the rise. Sandrine Sainson, the DDB Travel & Tourism France business development manager, believes this research could inform the advertising strategies of many other tourist destinations. "Travellers believe that the shorter the distance of travel, the cheaper it will be. So American tourism bodies could target other Americans and Canadians," she says.
Economic crises are one issue, but a natural catastrophe, such as an earthquake, can have entirely different effect on a country's tourism trade. While Hayes says that there is no evidence the bushfires in Southern Australia affected travel to the country as the region most affected is not a traditional tourist destination, Mexico has had an almost insurmountable double-whammy given the state of the economy and the outbreak of swine flu.
Tourism accounted for $13 billion of Mexico's income last year, making it the third-largest source of foreign currency after remittances and oil revenues. The fall-off in visitor numbers, after the biggest tour operators in countries such as Germany and Japan cancelled all trips to Mexico, will have a major impact in 2009. The question is: how does a country's tourism sector recover from such a devastating set of circumstances?
There is hope that marketing can help a country rebuild and recover from such damage to its reputation.
Tim Duffy, the M&C Saatchi UK Group chairman and chief executive, believes that in Mexico's case, the answer is a carefully timed PR and public affairs campaign to revive perceptions of safety.
"Mexico should now be trying to spot the moment when people start saying 'Swine flu is not as big as we were told' and, when that dial starts to turn, develop a campaign of endorsement and authority, by which I mean subtle promotion of the fact that people we respect are prepared to go. That will accelerate the recovery. But the timing has to be just right."
Queensland will no doubt be enjoying several more publicity opportunities because, as Hayes explains, the announcement of the job winner was not the end of the campaign. "Tourism Queensland is now moving on to the next phase - which involves maintaining interest in the island caretaker's adventures during the six months of his contract, and ultimately driving more visitors to the islands of the Great Barrier Reef," he says.
"To sustain interest in the campaign, Ben Southall will need to be more than just a travel writer. We want him to really get under the skin of the destination, to meet the locals, find the 'stories behind the stories' of the destination and to tell the world about his adventures," Hayes adds.
The lesson of Tourism Queensland's global success must be that cut-through is key. But cut-through must also take account of a new mindset among holidaymakers, Duffy explains. "Destinations now have to generate greater perceived value. Tourists don't see that much in sitting on a beach at present. They want a holiday that provides stories and memories," he says.
So for destinations looking to survive the downturn, there is much to be gained from a strategy rethink.
HOW LEADING COUNTRY DESTINATIONS ARE CHANGING THEIR AD STRATEGIES
The US campaign "you've seen the film, now visit the set" aims to develop a distinctive voice as a way of differentiating the destination from all those focusing on the beaches and blue skies and so break through the clutter. Developed by M&C Saatchi, working for the US Department of Commerce, it breaks with what Tim Duffy, the M&C Saatchi UK Group chairman and chief executive, describes as "a phase of promoting through individual cities and states" by the US government. He says: "The ad strategy at national level is right as it's about sharing the diversity and scale of the US without fragmenting it or making it invisible and we're doing it through the lens of Hollywood."
Italy is promoting attractions beyond its iconic world heritage sites in Rome, Florence, Venice and Naples. The "Italia much more" campaign, created by the Italian Tourist Board and the Italian TV Trade Department, was launched in April and is set to run all year, the Italian Tourist Board spokesperson, Stefania Gatta, says. The campaign seeks to entice visitors to look beyond the iconic attractions of Italy and to discover its many other sides. However, with Michela Vittoria Brambilla heading the recently reinstated Italian Ministry of Tourism, there is hope that greater investment in promotion will be forthcoming. Its chief challenge is to appeal to tourists when the euro remains strong and the destination is perceived as expensive, Gatta explains.
One of the newest tourist destinations in the world, China, is making radical changes to its advertising strategy. The China National Tourist Office director, Chen Xi Xie, says: "We are moving from promoting China's tourism resources to promoting its tourism products, meaning we are packaging trips with several destinations," adding that advertising would be cut in favour of PR this year. An example of the new promotional strategy is a recent trip for two travel journalists to kick-off a package tour promotion. Entitled "China: two heavens", Chen says the promotion will encourage Europeans to fly to the shopping "heaven" of Hong Kong before flying to the tropical city and leisure "heaven" of Xinyang in Henan province.
The Spanish Tourist Office is running its "Smile! You're in Spain" campaign in the UK. The work, developed by Publicis Madrid in 2007, is based on the idea that Spain is a home from home for many British tourists - figures show that 90 per cent of the 15.7 million Britons who took a holiday in Spain in 2008 were repeat visitors. This relationship has been built up and maintained in previous years through ad campaigns aimed at keeping Spain at the forefront of British holidaymakers' minds, providing extensive information through print to encourage more visits to undiscovered regions and sampling more unknown products. "This year, things have changed with the economic downturn and we have increased the number of joint marketing activities with travel partners," the Spanish Tourist Office spokesperson, Carmen Hernandez, says.