tourism australia 4 million fans

In a Q&A, Tourism Australia reveals the secrets of its Facebook dominance

Tourism Australia has the most popular destination page in the world.

In 2012 alone, it grew its fan base from 1.2 million to 4.1 million and launched social media campaigns that elicited 1 million views a day.

Australia does well on other social media platforms, too, but Facebook still delivers “the best reach, engagement, and conversion,” says the country’s tourism agency.

Aussie dominance on Facebook is all the more impressive given that the travel sector as a whole is behind other sectors when it comes to social marketing.

Here’s the backstory behind Tourism Australia’s social media prowess.

Pivoting its Facebook strategy

In early 2010, managing director Andrew McEvoy, then relatively new with the organziation, decided to prioritize social media. Experimentation began to be encouraged from the top down.

A key moment came on May 22, 2010, when Tourism Australia invited fans to submit their snapshots informally for its first Friday Fan Photos album.

It wasn’t a formalized concept. Instead, it was an organic, viral hit. Fans responded eagerly when they saw other fans’ images being showcased, and then they shared their own photos via the site’s wall.

Asking followers to share their photos may have been a commonplace tactic at the time, but Tourism Australia looked at the concept’s popularity and drew unique conclusions from it.

Scaling social by enlisting residents

In October 2010, McEvoy created the national tourism agency’s first position for an employee tasked full time to overseeing social media and advocacy. To fill the job, he hired away Jesse Desjardins from a Paris marketing firm.

Desjardins was a vital architect in Tourism Australia’s leap to social media greatness.

Up until 2011, tourism officials aimed their messages primarily at foreigners. “Innovation” meant contests with prizes. No wonder the catchphrase was that “social media doesn’t scale.”

In summer 2011, Tourism Australia shifted its focus to engaging its citizens first.

It enlisted residents as national brand advocates. This strategy helped produce more content and amplify sharing.

This strategy broke away from the conventional wisdom among national tourism agencies, which was to broadcast marketing messages to foreigners who hadn’t yet visited.

tourism australia

Exhibit A: In September 2011, Facebook rolled out Timeline for pages, a feature that chronologically lists highlights from a user’s “life.”

Most companies used the Timeline to list corporate milestones, such as their founding dates (as, for example, American Express still does).

In early April 2012, Tourism Australia turned over its Timeline to its users. Scroll back to the 1990s or 1890s, and you’ll see photos of Australians themselves and what they were doing on those dates.

To be sure, other travel companies have also been creative with their Timelines. But Tourism Australia’s tactic stands out because it dovetails nicely with its overall strategy.

Today, Australia’s Facebook and Instagram fan pages are much more user-focused than the ones managed by other tourism boards. Australians may be the only people who don’t plaster the logo of their tourism marketing company everywhere.

The user-generated content is often outstanding, and resonates well with fans. Just this past Monday, a user submitted a photo of koalas. This week, more than 70,000 people “liked” it.

koalas tourism australia

Investing in people

In early 2012, the organization doubled down on social by bringing on a second full time staffer for social media. It also began enlisting contributions from its entire staff, including digital and PR managers in its regional offices.

In January, it hired a third full-timer for social.

It’s notable that all of this investment has been in people, not equipment.

While some organizations outsource their social media operations to third parties, Tourism Australia keeps its own one in-house. While other groups rely on expensive, enterprise software solutions for running social, Tourism Australia gets things done on the Facebook and Instagram platforms themselves, without shortcuts.

To find out more, Tnooz did a Q&A with Desjardins via e-mail. His responses were edited for publication.

jesse Desjardins tourism australia

What metrics do you use to judge return on investment (ROI)? 

Reach: how much of our target demographic we are reaching.

Engagement: how people are interacting with and sharing our content.

Conversion: How many people we can move to the next phase of the travel purchase cycle.

We also work quite closely with industry partners that we feature on our profiles to figure out which activities lead to actual bookings. But we’ll keep this method top secret for now.

What’s the payoff?

International spend and arrivals are up this year. Although it’s impossible to attribute all of this to our social activities, we do know that online advocacy plays an important part in any travel decision.

What’s are your priorities in 2013?

First, mobile. Well over 50% of our social content is viewed on a mobile device on our platforms. So the content we post on Tourism Australia’s social profiles is always created with mobile in mind.

As I’ve said elsewhere, mobile demands short, intelligent, focussed, and massively relevant content.

Just have a look at how people consume information on their smartphones. They scroll very fast. You literally have a fraction of a second to capture their attention.

One of our responses has been to riff off of breaking news and trending conversations online, whenever there’s a way to put a positive Aussie spin on the conversation. We did this with the “end of the world/Mayan calendar” story last December 21.

end of the world australia

Tourism Australia now receives more images through Instagram than Facebook, and that’s a growth area we’re focusing on developing in 2013.

We’re also targeting China, one of Australia’s key markets for in-bound tourism, where social media platforms Sina Weibo and Tudou produce the best ROI.

How does Tourism Australia handle the legal rights issues of user-submitted photography?

We don’t claim ownership of any photos that are posted on our profiles.

Our terms and conditions (T&Cs) state that by posting on our Facebook wall or hashtagging your Instagram photos with #SeeAustralia you give Tourism Australia permission to repost on its social media profiles exclusively and at any time you can ask for your photo to be removed.

Increasingly professional photographers are using our platforms to showcase their work, gain a following, and then onsell more work.

We’ll also often purchase photos featured on our page and then hire some of our more active photographers to cover events and festivals for us.

How does your team stay focused on what matters?

You have to be very clear of what the objectives are. A big part of success in this space is not just being good at the social media part, but also at managing stakeholders.

In terms of managing the flow of content coming in, yes it’s pretty crazy. Most days it feels like you’re drinking from a fire hose.

But, we’re very focused on systems and consistent, methodical workflows.

The volume of content coming in is not going slow down. We’re just going to need to become better and more efficient at dealing with it. But it’s a good problem to have.


Using “the Force”

Fitting with Australia’s characteristic hands-on, direct approach, Tourism Australia dispenses with business speak and motivational babble when it attempts to get all of its team members to sing from the same hymnal about social.

To communicate with everyone and to stay on message, the social media team at Tourism Australia has posted an unusual photo of Luke Skywalker and Yoda standing together. Desjardins explains its purpose this way:

This photo reminds us to make our fans the hero every day. When we look at what other brands are doing in the social space, it’s still all about them, they are the hero, they are Luke Skywalker.

In Star Wars, Yoda is the wise one, he’s the one who has a deep understanding of where Luke should go and whispers this path in his ear. But throughout the film the hero is always Luke.

This is our approach in social. When we make our fans Luke Skywalker, they will pick up our stories and take them to places where it could never go on their own.

This mantra is always front and centre in everything that we do in social media. It’s very clear to our fans that the platforms are about them first.

The results speak for themselves.

Today, 95% of Tourism Australia’s social media content is user-generated.

To learn more about Tourism Australia’s success, see its Slideshare presentation (below), which has already been viewed more than 110,000 times: “The World’s Biggest Social Media Team.


Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInEmail to someone
Sean O'Neill

About the Writer :: Sean O'Neill

Sean O’Neill had roles as a reporter and editor-in-chief at Tnooz between July 2012 and January 2017.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Anonymous This Time

    “You have to be very clear of what the objectives are. A big part of success in this space is not just being good at the social media part, but also at managing stakeholders.”

    On behalf of everyone working in travel looking to do the same thing I’d have to say it’s the top-down management approach to it that often kills these things early on. Policies that require using the logo or an approach that goes: “If it doesn’t bring in sales directly then it’s a waste of time”.

    Well done TourismAustralia, it looks like you’ve got the right organisational culture and approach.

  2. Graham & Deb

    Great article, thank you. We are tour operators in outback Australia and are just starting to get into social media. It’s so exciting to think where this could take our small company. We are learning all the time and seeing what you have done is mind blowing for us. Thank you again from Charleville, Queensland.

  3. Joe Buhler

    Great kudos to the Aussies! This is how social web engagement needs to be done to be effective and the impressive results are proof of that. If I hear one more comment about social not producing an ROI, I will feed that person to the koalas 😉

    On a more serious note: Below is the key sentence for me that should be read by every tourism marketer before starting any social activities:

    “This strategy broke away from the conventional wisdom among national tourism agencies, which was to broadcast marketing messages to foreigners who hadn’t yet visited.”

    That old mindset just doesn’t cut it any longer. The audience will see right trough it and ignore the rest.

  4. Andre Van Kets

    Outstanding article and excellent insights in the slideshare presentation.

    I hope people from South Africa Tourism are watching and learning.

    • Sean O'Neill

      Sean O'Neill

      Thanks for the comment, Andre. Many tourism boards worldwide need to learn from Australia’s example.

  5. Peter

    Thanks for a great article Sean. An outstanding example of what can be done when you inspire people to get involved. I hope in our own small way we can follow the example set by these guys at Tourism Australia.

    We are currently in the middle of a Australian business purchase, and when complete we will have true 24 hour global coverage and it is great to see this national tourism department being an example to us all.

    • Sean O'Neill

      Sean O'Neill

      Thanks for your comment, Peter! Good luck with your purchase.

  6. Anne Bain


    Great piece on what really works for large organisations in social media – people engagement! I am lucky to live in Australia and you have given me some great ideas on how I can possibly hang on to Tourism Australia’s social media coat tails and hopefully inspire more Australians, especially those who have a disability to get out there and travel.

    best wishes

    • Dennis Schaal



      Thanks for your comment from Down Under!

      Note to all readers: Feel free to e-mail us with tips on how we can better cover Australia travel, in general.


  7. Marcus

    Great work by McEvoy, Desjardins and the rest of the Tourism Australia team. Lots of lessons for other tourism bureaus to learn from.

    I love the line, “It’s notable that all of this investment has been in people, not equipment.” It’s easy to get caught up in having the latest technology, but ultimately it’s about people, relationships and the community you’re building.

    Thanks for writing this, Sean.

  8. Melissa Wilson

    Great case study with insights brands can actually use – I love their Luke Skywalker and Yoda theory. Hats off to Tourism Australia!

    • Sean O'Neill

      Sean O'Neill

      The Star Wars metaphor is truly inspired. Thanks, Melissa!

      • Andre Van Kets

        Yes – the Yoda/Skywalker approach is key.

        To paraphrase Yoda: it would be apt to pass this advice to many travel / destination brands “Unlearn, you must”.

  9. Stuart

    Ace interview Sean. Love this.
    Smart, thoughtful, intelligent. Big haun to TA.

    May the Force be with youse!


Newsletter Subscription

Please subscribe now to Tnooz’s FREE daily newsletter.

This lively package of news and information from Tnooz’s web site provides a convenient digest of what’s happening in technology that drives the global travel, tourism and hospitality market.

  • Cancel