australia technology
780 days ago
 

Australian distribution strategy could be template for other tourism boards

The US government recently released its first progress report since launching its ambitious plan to brand America and grow visitor numbers to the country.

Overall the results are positive and intent to visit is up.  This is the first time that the US has had a national marketing strategy and marks an interesting and exciting opportunity. But is something missing from the strategy?

The strategy outlined by Brand USA includes promoting the US, enabling travel into and within the US, providing world class customer service, coordinating across government, and conducting research.

The one key piece I see lacking in the strategy is a national product distribution strategy designed to promote small businesses who offer the bulk of the unique and interesting experiential offerings. A distribution strategy, however, is not an easy endeavour and takes a significant amount of work to develop and implement.

Getting it right?

One country that has shown leadership in the development of a national distribution strategy is Australia.

The Australian Tourism Data Warehouse (ATDW) and its distribution network, known as the Tourism Exchange Australia (TXA) Alliance, has been providing education, technology, and distribution for the Australian market since 2001.

The driving force behind TXA, a joint government and commercial partnership created in 2007, was a recognized need by Government to assist in providing online booking capabilities, in particular to the SME sector.

A secondary driver was to provide ATDW online distributors with additional revenue opportunities.

The strategy that led to the creation of the ATDW and TXA preceded the creation of either.

Wendy Smith, the TXA Project Manager explains:

“The State and Territory tourism organisations saw the benefits of a shared resource model, shared hosting and distribution on the national platform.

“Initially, its primary purpose was to collate and distribute tourism information to consumers, but this has grown to offer additional services and adding a booking component to this commercial offering was a logical step in response to consumer demand.”

But should Governments be responsible for developing technology standards?  As Wendy explains, the TXA is actually a partnership between Government and industry.

The XML standards used for distribution purposes was developed by the TXA’s technology partner V3 (pronounced VCubed).

In absence of a recognized standard, this seems a reasonable solution, however, the OpenTravel Alliance has a number of schemas that support a variety of travel and tourism sectors.  Using an open standard that is already supported by industry could make adoption by industry easier.

There are of course several challenges with developing a national strategy, besides just the technological ones.

Where to go from here?

Unlike Australia, the US has never had a national tourism organization to bring cohesion to the relative granularity that exists in the current US tourism landscape. State and city based DMO/CVBs all compete for eyeballs online, in print, and other media sources.

The concept of having a singular voice, let alone a singular strategy, as exciting as that seems, is a complete unknown.  Before any strategy will work, there will need to be some agreement on standards of delivery and concensus amongst stakeholders.

In the case of Australia, this meant state and territories coordinating education of local businesses based on the content developed for the Tourism ekit, which contains over 50 tutorials designed to help operators make the most of online opportunities.

With all this coordination and education, however, the ATDW and TXA’s biggest barrier has been communicating the concept of coordinated national strategy.

Knowing this, Brand USA and other tourism boards considering a distribution strategy could learn from the Australian experience and use the extensive network of local and state DMOs & CVBs to spread the message and help build support for the strategy.

Strategies are, by nature, long term.  A long term approach to marketing and operations that does not include a distribution strategy and supplier engagement could be considered a half measure.

A vision

If Brand USA, or another national tourism organization, is looking to develop a full circle strategy to increase visits and tourist spend, then surely including a national distribution strategy would:

  • help enable small business to offer local tourism products
  • use that product data to increase the variety and diversity of experiential offerings at the local, state and national level, increase revenue opportunities for upstream distribution
  • improve customer experiences by fostering nationally recognized standards of delivery

The path that Australia has forged should not be ignored.

I hope that national tourism organizations like the newly formed Brand USA follow the lead of Australia and develop strategies that target all steps in the travel buying cycle; marketing to target the dream phase, tools and content to help with planning, distribution and supplier booking enablement to drive purchase, and measurement & research tools to make incremental improvements.

In an industry as global as tourism, it makes sense to learn from those who have innovated regardless of location.

Although there may be regional and cultural differences, the core strategy developed and used to implement the ATDW and TXA should work anywhere in the world.

 
 
Stephen Joyce

About the Writer :: Stephen Joyce

Stephen Joyce is a contributing Node to Tnooz and has been working as a travel and tourism technology consultant since 1995. Stephen is the CEO of Rezgo.com, a cloud based software as a service reservation and booking platform for tour and activity providers.

Stephen is the Past Board Chair of the OpenTravel Alliance.

Stephen is a graduate of Capilano University, is a certified commercial pilot, and holds a certificate in IT Management.

 

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  1. Anna Pollock

    One of the primary reasons for ATDW’s success is called Liz Ward and the culture of service and support associated with the organisation. The focus has always been on capacity building at the grassroots. They didn’t try to compete, own the data etc but focus on the role appropriate to a public body – infrastructure support, education and training. Their e-tourism toolkit was one of the first and best of its kind.

    Going forward, Australians will find themselves more resilient to change and, as part of a network better able to collaborate and adapt. They have the foundation to become an “intelligent destination” and goodness knows we’ll need more of these.

     
  2. Joe Buhler

    Very interesting and informative article, Stephen. Providing an efficient, affordable distribution platform should be part of the brief of any national DMO. Not only is it a necessity for economic development in today’s technology enabled tourism industry but also serves to raise the level of professionalism at the local level by establishing standards that need to be met.

    This was the basic principle on which Switzerland Tourism has worked for the past two decades or more and upon which their website was built back in 1999 as a public / private partnership. Since then it has been constantly expanded and improved. It is today recognized by all segments of the industry as an effective distribution platform, especially for products and services that would not necessarily be considered by the major private sector OTAs.

    For the U.S. this will be a major challenge with the size and number of providers working against them. This is one area where being smaller makes a complex task not exactly easy but easier than for a huge destination like this one.

     
  3. Alexi H. Khajavi

    Thanks Stephen – interesting, I did not get that part from your post but it does make sense for Gov to provide standards. In that case, my full support.
    Alexi

     
  4. Alexi H. Khajavi

    Stephen,

    Thanks for the insightful article, while I applaud the efforts of Australia to undertake such an incredibly complex and multi-dimensional issue like tourism product distribution for a destination; I think there is no reason why a destination should be tasked with selling in the first place. Particularly, a destination as advanced and blessed with an innovative and highly savvy private sector tourism industry.

    Destination marketing organizations are responsible for driving awareness and creating interest in their destinations and by nature, the suppliers of that destination. Those suppliers, the private sector are in the business of selling, not government and Gov should not attempt to do so. There are cases in developing countries where overwhelmingly the suppliers have no access to online commerce and distribution that I would make an exception for a DMO to distribute. The problem however is that they never stop selling and as the private sector develops, the government finds itself in a competitive position with the very constituents its’ trying to support.

    Regards

    Alexi H. Khajavi
    VP Global Strategy
    MercuryCSC

     
    • Stephen Joyce

      Stephen Joyce

      Thanks Alexi. Let’s be clear, the ATDW and TXA don’t sell and are not tasked with selling anything. They are there to help provide a distribution infrastructure so that operators can get their products to market and sellers can get access to products they want to sell. The role of government in this case is to provide opportunities for economic development and support businesses by providing a framework so that all players have an equal opportunity to participate. This is where use of standards like the ones provided by the OpenTravel Alliance can play a role in ensuring that no one business controls the distribution landscape by forcing proprietary constraints on stakeholders.

       
  5. Troy Thompson

    Hey Stephen,

    Well done, really enjoyed the article.

    The ATDW certainly falls into the support functions that many of us have been discussing as a future role for the DMO. For destinations such as Australia and, as mentioned above, California, the scale and regional coverage make sense.

    Whether or not ATDW can keep pace with some of the other quasi-providers in this space…thinking Google…is yet to be seen.

    But I like the overall spirit.

    A DMO building tools and infrastructure that support the SME tourism providers.

    - Troy

     
  6. Liz Ward

    That’s right Stephen, national digital strategy in Australia is set at a national level, with the collaboration of all state and territory government tourism organisations and Tourism Australia.

    A joint vision and spirit of co-operation have been essential ingredients for ATDW to operate for 11 years and to evolve with the market and technology. Implementation is facilitated through the states and territories and increasingly at a regional level. The closer the engagement in the strategy at a regional level, the more success we have. We presently have a database of 27,000 listings, vast majority are SME business listings as well as events, attractions and destination listings. These listings are published through more than 150 web and a growing number of mobile channels.

    It’s definitely a long term plan that has come together, but with the right leadership at the outset and an approach that is relevant to current technology and the social environment at the time (and I’m speaking from experience here, because culturally ATDW has adapted in recent times to a more open, community style approach in the industry), I believe it’s achievable in any destination.

     
    • nicholas

      The ATDW is a great tool and bank of information that can be used shared and distributed, open source is the way to go, collaboration cooperation and so on. ATDW shares its product via the TXA “the open booking exchange” where wholesalers and online booking site can draw their inventory and sell to the open market, Sounds good! well, once upon a time last minute booking sites such as wotif and a few others in Australia use to have a real hold in the market offering a hotel room rate, the cheapest on the market.
      As the markets became larger and smarter with the creating of online channel managers spreading inventory over a larger market and using such sites as the ATDW, what was once a competitive online space has resulted into a unique situation where now all products being sold no matter who’s is selling, is offering the same rate initially.
      I have found customer who are becoming savvy in this knowledge and are moving away from their loyal booking sites realize that they can get a better deal calling up the hotel or tourism operator and save direct.
      ATDW is also facing competition in Australia with such company like siteminder who is also creating their own open booking exchange, however newish, it already has a strong market share so its a bit like watch this space.
      Dont get me wrong having a flat structure and given the size and volume of this distribution does open the market and gets more people to come to Australia as well as increases in domestic travel resulting in great tourism growth .
      The hotel and operators on the other side of the fence, face the increase level of commissions and booking fee costs but again the more savvy the operator using online SEO etc etc the better for them in lowering cost. The ATDW should in my eyes be providing a free booking service to business in Australia who in effect fund ATDW to the open market. Yes, the ATDW uses the TXA or open booking exchange but in turn the TXA use a company called V3 to sell product at a cost.

      My question is, should it be free? The best opportunity Tourism Australia can do is get customer to operators in the cheapest possible way. This is collaboration and cooperation. but it just my opinion.

      A national strategy in Australia has helped in the past but its future, in both supporting itself and with increasing competition and the cost of marketing of JUST iconic destination is Tourism Australia biggest old school mistake.

      Social media is changing the world it will continue to open the markets up. A national strategy cannot be the voice of a nation either, nor should it control it.

      I have a company called tourism channel, we build cost free website for regional town and help them grow, just thought I would share this with you.

       
    • Stephen Joyce

      Stephen Joyce

      I don’t think the distribution has to be free necessarily, but I do think it needs to be open. As a standards advocate, I would rather see multiple distribution channels all using the same messaging standard rather than having a single switch controlling all distribution. In an idealized distribution environment, there would be many distribution channels all connecting directly to multiple suppliers using the same messaging infrastructure, to reduce cost and complexity.

      The reality is, someone has to be the first to build the infrastructure and they need to cover the costs of that infrastructure over time. In the case of Australia, that would be TXA and V3.

       
  7. Travel News in Context • October 4, 2012 | TCTReview

    [...] Australia’s National Tourism campaign can serve as a model for other countries, including the U.S. to emulate. As a former Australian resident, all I can say is Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oy! Oy! Oy! Tnooz [...]

     
  8. Ron Hodson

    Stephen Joyce said:

    “The one key piece I see lacking in the strategy is a national product distribution strategy designed to promote small businesses who offer the bulk of the unique and interesting experiential offerings. A distribution strategy, however, is not an easy endeavour and takes a significant amount of work to develop and implement.”

    While I agree that this would be nice, this type of micro-level detail is probably beyond the abilities of a government funded entity. The infrastructure that would be needed to put such a capability in place would have to be huge, and I’m not sure the outcome would justify it.

    California seems to be trying such an effort through their Visit California website (visitcalifornia.com), but when I look at how much data has added been added to my local area, it’s pretty bereft of things to do – and we live in a popular tourism area. The responsibility for adding data is the businesses/destinations themselves, so either Visit California has not done a good job of telling businesses about this highly branded opportunity, or the businesses themselves don’t see much value in the service being offered.

    Instead it seems like there are a number of private businesses that are really making the most progress in capturing and categorizing places that offer “unique and interesting experiential offerings”. Yelp and TripAdvisor are the two most dominate in their marketspaces, and they are both trying to branch out to represent many other categories too. But these are 3rd party solutions, businesses then become at the mercy of those companies, so I’m not saying that is a perfect solution either.

    I haven’t looked at the Australian Tourism website in quite a while, so I’ll see what they are doing. I know the New Zealand one was trying to do the same, and maybe because of the size & population of those countries they can offer a better experience.

    Nevertheless, this is a great topic, and a great review by Stephen.

     
    • Stephen Joyce

      Stephen Joyce

      Looking at the Australia example, the overall strategy is driven at the national level while the implementation and business engagement are done at the state and local level. I doubt this type of program would work if it was purely a top down approach.

       
  9. Sam Heffernan

    Really positive article Stephen. Great to hear a bit of insight into the workings of the US tourism board too. It is worth noting that the same technology exists in the UK under the “Eviivo” brand, although with less success (http://www.tnooz.com/2011/09/12/news/visitengland-websites-saga-rumbles-on/) .

     
    • Stephen Joyce

      Stephen Joyce

      Thanks Sam. I’m aware of a similar approach by Ireland as well. The Australia example is the definitely the most advanced in terms of their development of standards and the uptake (as far as I am aware).

       
 
 

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