Arnie Weissmann
Arnie Weissmann

A U.K. tour operator,, has pulled together a wonderful map that displays the tourism-promotion slogans of every country that has one. They range from somewhat passive suggestions ("Travel in Slovakia -- Good Idea") to inspiring ("Austria -- Arrive and Revive") to puzzling ("El Salvador -- The 45-minute Country") to we're-a-duty-free-zone-and-we-don't-really-need-to-spend-much-time-thinking-about-a-slogan ("Andorra -- The Pyrenean Country").

And there's the inescapably sad irony of "Syria -- Always Beautiful."

Slogans are often the visible tip of an iceberg-size strategy devised by a tourism board or ministry, and last week I had the opportunity to meet with the executives driving tourism initiatives in two countries, Australia ("There's Nothing Like Australia") and Mexico ("Live It to Believe It"), where tourism has a significant impact on the economy.

Travelers contribute about 10% of the GDP in Australia and about 15% in Mexico. Both are coming off record years for international arrivals.

Australia's longtime challenge when attempting to attract more Americans is distance. Although Americans rank fourth in arrivals, it's a particularly attractive market for tourism marketers because it ranks second in spend. Australia always scores remarkably well on surveys of U.S. travelers as an aspirational destination, but arrivals from the U.S. have inched up relatively slowly over time.

Distance is certainly not an issue for Mexico. In addition, the combination of a weak peso and increased airlift has fueled growth from north of the border, and 2016 saw a record number of U.S. arrivals.

It was interesting to hear from these two country's top destination marketers about where strategies, facing the same inbound market, overlapped and in what ways they varied.

The thrust of Australia's new direction is to highlight the country's natural beauty, with particular focus on coastal and aquatic areas, said John O'Sullivan, Tourism Australia's managing director. The campaign's creative material spotlights a blend of the known (Sydney Harbor, the Gold Coast) and relatively unknown (Three Capes Track in Tasmania, Sellicik's Beach).

The direction evolved because Tourism Australia's research showed that once visitors actually see the nation's coastal regions, the perception of how the country ranks against competitors, ranging from Hawaii to the French Riviera, improves 50%.

Australia's tourism minister, Steve Ciobo, said emphasis varied from market to market, and the tourist board targets whatever it believes will lead to maximum traffic, but he noted that there's almost universal interest in indigenous Australian culture.

Eighty percent of visitors are already spending time along Mexico's coastal regions, said Lourdes Berho, general director of the Mexico Tourism Board, and it is her desire to grow arrivals by additionally luring visitors to interior destinations. Those who do go to visit its designated "magic cities," Mayan ruins and areas where Mexican culture is the main focus stay longer and spend more.

Mexico's approach to tourism is more centralized than in many countries, and Berho is seeking to leverage that in the service of the current strategy. The rich culture of Oaxaca will soon be connected to the coastal resort area of Huatulco with a modern highway, halving the time to get from one to the other. The expanding resort areas of Quintana Roo -- Cancun, Riviera Maya, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, Tulum -- will come under one administrative umbrella in order to better plan for and exploit shared resources, such as the airport and roads.

She wants to create routes that connect the magic cities and incentives for travelers to go there.

In a nutshell, Australia's thrust appears to be focused on inspiring travelers to get on a plane, while Mexico, riding momentum and recently enhanced connectivity, is focused on engineering the internal product to maximize existing interest.

I mentioned to Berho that there have been previous attempts to increase traffic to interior Mexican destinations without much success and that when tour operators had listed cultural capitals in brochures, consumer reaction had been tepid.

The difference this time, Berho said, would come down to "implementation" and "follow up."

Despite their different approaches and messages, Mexico and Australia share a belief in the preferred method to deliver their messages: through travel advisers.

Australia invited 85 Virtuoso members and staff to attend an event in New York last week at which Ciobo and O'Sullivan spoke. (Also present were a dozen or so cultural ambassadors, from actor Chris Hemsworth to celebrity chef Neil Perry).

Virtuoso CEO Matthew Upchurch said his organization has worked with Tourism Australia for five years and is certifying 500 advisers to be destination specialists -- at least one in every agency with 10 or more advisers.

Likewise, Berho was in town to attend trade day at the New York Times Travel Show, where she intended to reach out to agents not only to promote Mexico, but to get feedback from them.

"We rely on them to help us identify which [regions] are most sellable," she said.


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