‘Renaissance of indulgence’ is coming, says Tourism Australia chief

Phillipa Harrison talks trends, opportunities, challenges at Destination Australia

Tourism Australia hosted its largest Destination Australia conference to date today, with 800 travel and tourism delegates attending in person at the ICC Sydney and another 250 people online.

Phillipa Harrison, Managing Director of Tourism Australia provided the latest insight on driving international tourism back to Australia, 12 months after the nation opened its doors to visitors.

Harrison said there has been some “real progress in international visitation”, with leisure travel numbers building month on month, to the point of overtaking VFR arrivals in January, for the first time since the pandemic.

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“That is a really positive trend,” Harrison said. “Additionally, our favourability as a destination is strong and it’s growing on a global stage. And in our key markets around the world, our research is telling us that high-yielding travellers are still prepared to dip into their savings – even though there are tough times ahead – and treat themselves to an international trip.”

The Australian tourism chief said the reopening of China bodes well for the Australian inbound market, saying “we really can start planning into the future with a bit more certainty now. The skies the limit.”

She touched on aviation capacity, noting that airlift is still rebuilding and “pricing is starting to normalise as that capacity comes back,” but flagged other potential hurdles as the nation’s tourism industry rebuilds.

“There’s a huge amount of competitiveness globally as everybody builds their visitor economies, there are staffing challenges, and always as a long haul destination, the barriers of time, distance and cost have returned as major hurdles as we start to re-drive international visitation to Australia.”


Harrison said on the back of Tourism Australia’s latest global marketing campaign, the tourism bureau is eyeing a return to pre-pandemic levels of international visitor spend by next year and inbound visitor numbers by 2025. However, she encouraged the industry to reach those levels earlier.

“What is becoming a little bit obvious to us is that in many ways, we have reverted to pre-pandemic behaviors and preferences for travel. It’s something which has probably been hastened by the world’s desire to get back to a more stable and more certain and yet a more purposeful way of life.”

Consumer preferences

Harrison highlighted numerous consumer preferences that are evolving, such; health concerns shifting to wealth concerns; a desire for more purposeful travel and leaving a positive impact; inclusiveness and accessibility (that earned a shout-out to Queensland which has declared 2023 as the Year of Accessibility); and embracing and engaging in short-form video content, such as Tik Tok and Facebook Reels.

Another change Harrison pinpointed was that the “renaissance of indulgence is upon us”.

“Our target audience, high-yielding travellers, or those who are predisposed to spend more of their discretionary spend on travel, are still looking for ways to celebrate.

“They want to indulge and they want to treat themselves. Revenge travel was much talked about as we opened up and the concept is now evolving.”

“Whilst people still want to save for that rainy day, they also realise that pleasure, escapism and living life to the fullest is something to be sought and is highly sought after.”

She said that indulgence doesn’t always mean an expensive holiday, but can be “short bursts of extravagance” within an overall holiday, such as lashing out on experiences, food and wine, a spa visit.

“Moments of luxury to really give a visceral sense of gratification.”

Metaverse and chatGPT

Harrison further encouraged the Destination Australia audience to consider how they may be able to engage their businesses in the Metaverse, saying that space “could shape travel in the years to come.”

“It does blur the lines between what’s real and what’s not real. But it does provide people with an opportunity to try something before they buy it, and by 2026 it is predicted that over a quarter of people globally will spend more than an hour a day in the metaverse to either work, to socialise, to consume entertainment or to shop. In fact, by 2040, it’s predicted that 95% of all purchases will be in online platforms like this one,” she said.

Other trends Harrison dived into included the rise of digital nomads of which there are now 14 million around the world, with that number tipped to double in the next decade; and chatGPT.

Digital nomads are on the rise | Credit: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels

It’s early days [for chatGPT], it has a lot of doubters out there but there is no denying that this technology is going to impact our working and our personal lives.”

chatGPT-4 is being launched next week and will have the ability to convert words into videos.

“Imagine the possibilities for our space as this functionality does evolve. Already, it can pull together detailed itineraries. It has the potential to build greater personalisation for every step of the travel journey,” Harrison said of the tech.

“There’s an opportunity to build deeper and more personalised online connections with travellers when they’re planning and booking and staying with us. It can help with complex aspects like translation but it can also take away those repetitive tasks.”

‘Come and Say G’day’ campaign response

Harrison also provided an update on Tourism Australia’s ‘Come and Say G’day’ campaign featuring the CGI Ruby Roo voiced by Aussie actress Rose Byrne. While still in its infancy, and earmarked for at least the next two years, the campaign advertising assets have already been viewed half a billion times across all mediums and markets since launching in October 2022, driving an extra 2.6 million people to australia.com.

Consumer demand research indicates when people see the campaign it makes them 66% more likely to consider a holiday to Australia. Brand metrics for Australia (ie. the awareness of an Australian holiday) has increased by 11 points and the intention to come to Australia within the next two years is up 13%.

Harrison said the metrics clearly show there is “still demand for Australia and there’s still demand for Australian holidays.”

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