Tourism Australia’s bi-annual incentive showcase Dreamtime, held in Brisbane earlier this month, as set the stage for another impressive season of incentive travellers heading Down Under. Brad Foster spoke with TA’s Penny Lion for the latest on this event and the future of the sector.

Tourism Australia’s executive general manager of events, Penny Lion, holds one of the most prestigious positions in the business events sector anywhere in the world. With more responsibilities added to her role in the past 12 months she thinks herself pretty lucky.

Seven years in the job now it wouldn’t be hard to lean back a little, apply a foot to the brake, and take stock of things.

But that’s not Ms Lion’s style.

There’s too much to do. Competition globally is rife. There are new strategies to implement; new markets to explore; and new methods in which to keep attracting the incentive world to our country that is now said to be worth $3.7 billion annually to us.

Dreamtime, the bi-annual showcase in which 100 of the world’s leading incentive travel planners are invited to experience Australia first-hand, is just one cog in a very large marketing wheel. Along with these high-profile buyers were 20 of the leading incentive travel trade media who, right now, are filing stories on their experiences, first in Brisbane, and later in other parts of Australia they visited.

Selling them the Australian story were 90 of our leading incentive travel suppliers – hoteliers, venue operators, destination management companies, product suppliers, and go-betweens – convention bureau managers – who can seamlessly make it all happen by connecting buyers with sellers.

Not only did Dreamtime delegates have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with Australian sellers but they experienced a side of Brisbane that was, until now, not fully understood by anyone but the people who live there.

“Brisbane is well known for hosting major association and high profile events like the G20 and the World Science Festival. They have all the necessary infrastructure for those style of events,” Ms Lion says.

“A great convention centre, wonderful hotels, all centrally located. What we wanted to do – and what we did – was get the word out of the fun, connected and creative side of Brisbane.

And the feedback that we have received to date demonstrated that we did that. “The whole food scene in Brisbane, for example, is just fantastic.”

Just some of the Dreamtime delegate experiences in Brisbane were:

  • Travelling in style with helicopter transfers to Spicers Peak Lodge
  • Discovering Brisbane’s food and wine with exclusive tastings at Farrier Bar, Dello Mano, Otto Ristorante, Gerard’s Bistro and Urbane – to name a few
  • Enjoying luxury cruise travel to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary on Pure Adrenalin
  • Taking in the Glasshouse Mountains from the vantage point of Kooroomba Lavender Farm

Ms Lion said there was a similar “unearthing” of product in South Australia which hosted
Dreamtime two years ago.

“We talk about the pillars of people, product and place, and it is the people of the destination and the product that you can buy into that gives you a sense of place. Brisbane, like Adelaide, did this incredibly well this year.

“Southbank, the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art, the developments occurring at Howard Smith Wharf… just getting the people of Brisbane to share some of those secrets with the rest of the world was fantastic.”

Source markets

The breakdown of Dreamtime hosted buyers in 2017 is indicative of where business is coming from for Australia.

One quarter of attendees were from China, with the second largest group from New Zealand which remains Australia’s largest source market. There were 10 attendees from the UK and a similar number from the US.

What Ms Lion is so happy about is that there were more people who wanted to attend than who could be accommodated.

“These are highly qualified individuals working on the trade side of the industry, the incentive side of business events. They’ve participated in some terrific experiences during Dreamtime but we acknowledge this is business for them – to experience destinations first hand – and in this competitive environment where they get invited to numerous events around the world we were pleased to receive so many requests to attend. There is a strong interest in Australia.

“We also undertake a number of familiarisation programs for corporates each year. Our most recent one demonstrated to us how much business is coming through the pipeline, and what potential is out there.”

And, she says, the potential remains huge for Australia.

Despite hosting a raft of large-scale incentives in recent years, particularly from China in the direct selling space, Ms Lion says there are more large-scale business opportunities.

“Not only do these companies continue to have an interest in Australia when they have been here, there is a domino effect, whereby Nuskin from China, which has held an incentive event in Australia, will promote their event to Nuskin in South Korea and Nuskin in Japan, and we have the potential to get that business as well.

“We’re starting to see more pharmaceutical companies, more car companies, come to and consider Australia.

“There is still a significant pipeline of large groups that will hold their incentives in Australia, and our in-market teams believe that we will start to see smaller, higher value traveller groups – say 200 to 500 – with really good spend, also coming.”

Fine tuning

Despite arrival numbers for incentive travel to Australia currently standing at an impressive 850,000 per annum, the time to gently apply the brake is definitely not now. Ms Lion says there is still too much work to do.

“We keep track of leads and we adjust our marketing activities to suit each market we work in.

“If we hear about a piece of business that we didn’t get we endeavour to find out why and we change our tack accordingly.

“In the U.S., for example, we know that the incentive travel market loves Australia. It really is at the top of their bucket list but often the planner finds it hard to convert that business because they don’t know enough about us so we work hard to make sure they do.

“We find that event planners do so much better at converting that piece of business if they experience the destination for themselves.

“That’s why Dreamtime is so important to us. Each and every market is so different for us which is why with Dreamtime we ensure we have one of our team members from each market travelling with each group.

“We want them to go home as advocates for us.”

The good news is that this Dreamtime appears to have once again delivered on its promise of showing attendees that “There’s Nothing Like Australia”.

Early feedback to Business Events Australia has been glowing of the product, the people and the place.

A full report on the event will appear in the February 2018 edition of micenet.