How NOT to use Online Video Marketing for Tourism Regions and the Travel Industry, Expensive Australian Failures.

So how does a tourism region produce a video that rises above the 48 hours of video uploaded to youtube every minute, and harness some of the 3 billion eyeballs watching each day?

Australian travel video producer Mark Shea outlines how to run a successful online video campaign using Australian Tourism and Travel examples

There has recently been some negative press in Australia with regard to how Government Tourism bodies spend the $500 million allocated to them, to market the country.

As someone who has been involved in youtube and online video since their formation, and experienced some viral video success, I would like to inform tourism organisations and business, how best to use youtube as a marketing tool.

I closely follow video tourism campaigns from around the world and more often than not, see big budget productions sink to the bottomless pit of the youtube sea.

So how does a tourism region produce a video that rises above the 48 hours of video uploaded to youtube every minute, and harness some of the 3 billion eyeballs watching each day?

“And – dear lord – have you seen the ads? The ‘come to Australia’ ads. OH. MY. GOD. They give me visions of entering the Australian Tourist Board Marketing Department to find a room filled with baboons wistfully daubing the walls with their own faeces.” Graham David Hughes, Adventurer/Filmmaker who set a brand new Guinness World Record™ by visiting 133 countries in one year without ever leaving the ground.

A music video is not tourism marketing.

I recently produced a video for a restaurant in Port Douglas, Queensland, an area that relies heavily on tourism.

Both the business owner and l watched the Port Douglas marketing video produced by the local official tourism organisation. About a minute in, we both lost interest, moving on to something else.

The video looks great, with every shot looking like it came out of a tourist brochure. BUT, if people want beautiful beaches, rainforest etc, they have 100’s of locations like Port Douglas to choose from. AND, with the current price of the Aussie dollar, places that are much cheaper!

Producing a tourism promo that is nothing more than a music video, fails to recognise the important historical formation of youtube as a cultural phenomenon.

Youtube started as a vlogging platform, with people using whatever camera they could get their hands on to upload video. Viewers accepted the degraded video images in this egalitarian new world.

The message became more important than a film school education. For the first time anyone could be a filmmaker and find an audience.

Vlogging changed the media landscape. Viewers now expect honest appraisals and opinions.

A traditional television ad simply does not work on youtube, and if you don’t capture the attention of your audience, by engaging them, they simply click on to the next piece of entertainment.

Jean-Paul Toonen of T36 Media informed me of a study by the University of Leuven (Belgium) that found many marketeers traditionally make the mistake of only using video as a medium of evidence. They believe that if they show the local qualities of a region, it’s superior scenery and sunny beaches, then the viewers will be convinced. But this footage only proves the existence of these hotspots. And not the effect of relaxation, happiness and entertainment. The audience is only convinced by honest testimonials and authentic interviews, in combination with action in the picturesque local environment.

The research lead to the production of a highly successful campaign based on testimonials about living in the Limburg province. Jean-Paul Toonen informs, “Each film focused on one inhabitant from this region and shows their life (work & private) in active shots and scenes. This person is interviewed and tells us about their quality of life.”

So try and work out what differentiates your region from every where else. And find people who can express these key points with intelligence, humor and conviction.

Local Celebrities are Nobodies on Youtube.

Youtube has it’s own star system, based on a channel’s subscriber base and number of video views.

Each channel caters for a particular demographic. Age, sex, country of origin, can all be monitored via youtube’s ‘insight’ statistics.

Unfortunately tourism bodies don’t seem to understand that a local celebrity, such as a retired local league footballer, has no credibility on youtube. The campaign below would have been better off finding an urban family representing their main demographic and feature them exploring the landscape.

Let me give you a recent example. ‘Visit NSW’ recently employed Matilda Brown to produce a number of music videos masquerading as tourism promos.

Who you may ask is Matilda Brown?

Well, Matilda is the daughter of actor Bryan Brown and Rachel Ward. And this fact was promoted as a big marketing plus for the campaign.

If you live in Australia, and are over a certain age, you have probably heard of Bryan and Rachel. But for the rest of the world and youtube community Matilda, despite having studied filmmaking, is a nobody.

This campaign is the antithesis of what youtube represents, a place where anyone can become a star, regardless of their background!

I think the message in the video below is, ‘Don’t eat the mushrooms!’

Lonely Planet, now owned by the BBC, had the foresight to understand their monolithic faceless persona, and went about seducing someone from within the youtube star system, to represent their demographic.

They sent Natalie Tran, Australia’s most successful youtuber, around the world to produce short and sweet location videos that increased their subscriber base from 15,000 to over 40,000, and led to over 3 million more video views. So much do Lonely Planet rely on Natalie to grow their channel, they even use her name in their title keywording!

So if Lonely Planet understands how youtube works, one may ask, why can’t Australian Tourism Bodies?

I think half the problem is there seems to be no accountability for failure. Tourism bodies also don’t seem to understand how cost effective online video can be, basing their budgets on more expensive television advertising models.

In some instances, as with Tourism Victoria, a job is not put out for tender, unless it’s budget is over $150,000.

So for their recent Villages of Victoria ‘music video’ campaign, the video producers were not chosen based on online video success or pricing, but on some more mysterious selection process.

After nearly a year online, most of these videos have only garnered a few hundred views. Each video cost a whopping $10,000, three times industry pricing for a 2 minute online video.

Youtube is owned by Google, so when videos underperform like with the ‘villages’ campaign, they don’t get found on Google.

The Falls Creek video, for example, has currently only had 255 views after 12 months online. Tourism Operators have every right to question Tourism Victoria, when amateurs with cheap handy cams, manage to produce videos that perform better in keyword search! The video below doesn’t even make the first page of search for the term ‘falls creek’.

Make it real

Youtube is a very different beast from the high budget world of television advertising. The audience decides what rises to the top and spending big on a large film crew, may not always be necessary.

Most of the successful channels on youtube are produced by multi-skilled individuals who perform all aspects of production themselves. Viewers smell hubris and advertising a mile away and have grown use to videos that look different from television and films!

The short online video format is a challenging artform and anyone hired to produce your online campaign should already have a strong track record in this arena and preferably bring their own audience.

My experience has found personable truthful appraisals using real people work! Story line is more important than bokeh! And if you do produce expensive films that look amazing but don’t outline the key points that differentiate your region from everywhere else, don’t be surprised when they sink down the plughole of online obscurity.

One of worst and most wasteful examples of tourism video marketing is the $7.3 million ‘Daylesford, Lead a double life’ campaign. For those who know nothing about Daylesford, the video paints a confusing picture, tripping between today and yesteryear, and not really telling the viewer anything about the area!

Oh yes, it’s all very artistic, but with a very average views to dollars spent ratio, it’s a rolled gold failure! So far it has cost the taxpayer roughly $600 per video view, which may well be a youtube record!

More than just a video

Youtube has become a very competitive arena, with both professionals and amateurs vying for global views. Uploading a video is only half the battle.

Keywords, social media promotion, community participation; all these marketing tools require time and patience. Ensure some of your budget is allocated to making sure your video gets found.

So to sum up;

*define the key points that differentiate your region from other regions,

*find someone locally, or from the youtube star system, to communicate these key points, and

*produce a short, entertaining, informative, story-based video that is keyword optimised, and syndicated across various social media channels.


Author Mark Shea runs, Australia’s most subscribed and most viewed travel channel on youtube and one of youtube’s most popular travel channels. (Statistics from June 14th, 2011)

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15 thoughts on “How NOT to use Online Video Marketing for Tourism Regions and the Travel Industry, Expensive Australian Failures.

  1. Well said Mark…Government tourist bodies have no choice now but to listen to the people…not live by archaic philosophies that in the end cost them money..BIGTIME and get them no where…….from a tourist point of view…Long live the Lonely Planet concept..Take a good look at what captures the viewers attention…what stories they have to tell..They will win out in the end..NO DOUBT..Keep up the incredible work Mark..

  2. Hi Mark, a very valid story. We have been making presenter-led videos for hotels for 5 years and have seen some great conversions from lookers to bookers because of the videos effectiveness at getting this point across.

    We have produced videos for The Grace Hotel Sydney and many on the Gold Coast see . We have recently produced these for hotels in the UK, Spain and we are currently filming in Moscow.

    Long live engaging online video with a purpose..!!

  3. This article is absolutely spot on – I couldn’t agree more (especially with my quote!). The videos illustrate your point perfectly – the NSW one made vomit rise up my throat. The problem is that decisions are made — and funding allocated — by politicians who don’t necessarily have a clue how television advertising works, never mind YouTube.

    It’s a shame. As the world’s most travelled filmmaker and a frequent visitor to Australia, I have a concept for a “come to Australia” ad campaign that would go down a treat in the UK and US and it’s NOT a music video. Hell, I’d be willing to bet the cost of the campaign on its success.

  4. Thanks for your comment and quote Graham. You should approach Tourism Australia with your idea. But please film the whole process.

    Having had discussions with Tourism Victoria, it really is like the monkeys have taken over the asylum! They just won’t listen and seem hell bent on spending big on campaigns that fail.

    If they don’t fund your idea, at least if you film the process, you will come out of it with a real life comedy series in the vein of ‘The Office’.

  5. I’m so up for filming it all, but I have the feeling I wouldn’t make it past the front desk!! In the meantime I changed just one teeny thing on the NSW Advert….


  6. Classic Graham!

  7. One of the main issues here, and we observe same in international education marketing from state sector, lack of analysis on what marketing activities work or not, but thankfully digital is measurable (yet most ignore analytics).

    Further, we still observe majority of funds being poured into international events and channels that personnel (are required to) travel to, while prospectives carry on accessing their information online…..

    Think public sector issue, big budget means big face, but with performance indicators and related outcomes, commissioners and personnel and not directly accountable for success or failure….

  8. Mark, really enjoyed your post and couldn’t agree more. Amazingly some brands and their agencies still fail to get that social media is about relevant entertaining and engaging content, not about projecting another manufactured image. Yet transparent, product led material can be a pretty scary place for some brands. Often it forces them to really take stock of what they are trying to sell and the who – and how to improve it not just position it.

    And I’m sure not many agencies are going to tell the client that production costs need not be high, when revenue is derived from the mark up. Great stuff.

  9. Spot on Chris, thanks for your comments.

  10. Wow. That was one truly horrendous video. The agony of a really bad brochure, extended out into a 5 minute segment. I’ll never get those minutes back. 🙂

    Great insights though, thanks for sharing!

  11. Totally agree. This campaign is so dated … apart from the Aborigines and the animals it could be anywhere in the world, and parts of the world where travel and food and experiences are cheaper. (And I love FNQ, so I hate saying that).
    But it’s true. Where is the point of difference? Where is the engagement with the community?
    As a freelance travel journalist I was regularly courted by TQ and wrote and was published widely and prolifically after famils.
    But as a an award-winning, top Australian blogger and twitterer, emails, tweets, posts, suggestions and offers to post and promote via social media for them are continually ignored.
    There are no sour grapes here, I have plenty of paid work to do, but I am passionate about Queensland (and Australia) and I find other countries are far more embracing of social media than Queensland is.
    I find that brands like Virgin Australia open to the idea of social media, and was recently very impressed by Fiji Tourism Australia and also Western Australia Tourism, who have helped out on a series of posts I wanted to write after private holidays there.
    I do think TQ and perhaps Tourism Australia as a whole needs to embrace social media and I’m happy to help.
    Something does need to be done about this and fast, because Australia is missing out on tourism dollars and modern-day promotion and PR.

  12. Good article, good collection of video marketing examples. Thanks

  13. Great analysis this is very helpful to tourism destinations and marketers. Its not easy to understand the nuances of social video and all to often Tourism authorities hire film makers and PR firms who miss the point. I do a lot of videos for tourism companies at – Yep! fell into some of the traps there too. I have picked up some really cool points from you today. Excited to try them out. Thanks again for the great article. will follow – i have tweeted etc

  14. Fantastic website you have there Ian, will bookmark and follow

  15. In this digital era, Every Business requires an Online video marketing service that can play a vital role in their production same goes for the tourism as well. Thanks for sharing the article.

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