AAP
Australia's tourism industry must embrace social networking sites such as Facebook to diversify its global tourism campaigns, one of the nation's tourism leaders says.
The industry needs to harness the word-of-mouth inherent in social networking sites in its online media advertising, Tourism Australia executive chairman Rick Allert says.
Marketing Australia was "much more than making the next big TV ad", he said.
Speaking at a tourism conference in Sydney on Wednesday, Mr Allert said the Australian industry had coped well with the global economic downturn and swine flu crisis, outdoing most of its international competitors.
However, it needs to adopt a "strong digital (advertising) strategy."
Despite its successes, Australia had dropped from first to third on the FutureBrand Country Brand Index. Cost and distance were also still seen as major barriers to potential visitors.
"As more of the world continues to embrace the internet in new and diverse ways, this is an obvious medium we need to fully utilise to convey the depth and breadth of Australia's tourism experiences," Mr Allert told the conference.
"The internet, through social sites such as Facebook, enables us to convey moving and still images, as well as words, what a trip to Australia might entail, and to give others the opportunity to tell their stories."
Mr Allert warned the reliance on social network sites could be a double-edged sword for tourism operators, with negative word-of-mouth being potentially devastating for a country's image.
The impact on Australia's education industry due to perceived racism against Indian students was a salutary lesson, he said.
"A downside of letting others broadcast their experience of Australia is that we do run the risk of them telling some truths that we might not want to hear, such as their disappointment with a product or service that did not deliver on their expectations," Mr Allert said.
"As we've seen with the recent adverse publicity for the education sector and the student market from India, we need to be vigilant about the quality of the experience we offer.
"As has been apparent in the last four months, the consequences of not doing so could be extremely damaging to our reputation."
Recent tourism campaigns, such as the "Where the bloody hell are you?" ads and Baz Luhrmann's "Come Walkabout" promotion, have been criticised for not igniting the kind of interest the Paul Hogan commercials achieved in the 1980s.
However, Mr Allert on Friday hailed the current Come Walkabout campaign as a great success, saying more than 155 million people had so far seen the advertisements.