In 2016 Tourism Australia embarked on a massive 360 video campaign to help manage perceptions in a global tourism market.
Tourism Australia conducted a major research study called 'Consumer Demand Project' where they go out to about 25,000 international consumers each year and ask them about their drivers for selecting a holiday destination, their path to purchase & barriers. From that research, TA found that even though Australia was seen very positively by international consumers, and they thought that our beaches and aquatic and coastal experiences were amazing, they didn’t really understand the depth and diversity of experiences that we have on offer.
It was discovered that majority didn’t understand that Australia has remote coastal environments, beaches near cities & marine wildlife. It was a superficial, top-level understanding, and they wanted to delve a bit deeper.
Google search rankings also outlined that Australia was dropping behind competitors like Hawaii. In order to reclaim leadership in the space, and to go out with a strength, Virtual Reality was implemented to bring to life Australia’s offering, and basically enhance consumers’ experiential awareness of what they can do when they get to Australia. The campaign was designed to break Australia down into bite-sized experiences, and Virtual Reality was the tool that enabled that and to really bring Australia’s offering to life.
Extensive, diligent research was conducted from Tourism Australia before diving in the the world of VR. Initially a lot of desktop research was done just to understand how VR could be used and some of the benefits of it. It was found that it could be an amazing tool for story-telling because it adds just another level of immersion and engagement.
TA also conducted primary research with Google and TNS, where they compliled a few focus groups, and facilitated each of them with a Google Cardboard headset. Participants were asked about their holiday plans and what they thought about different places in Australia. They were then given Google headsets and asked to watch a few of the assets already created. The goal of this exercise was to see whether their perceptions had shifted, pre and post watching the 360 videos. The most interesting insight that came out of those groups was the fact that Virtual Reality could be used to influence a consumer’s likelihood to visit a destination, even ones they hadn’t previously considered.
Through relationships with all of the state and territory tourism organisations, Tourism Australia were able to ask them to come back with what they thought were the strongest coastal and aquatic experience in their state and territory. With these suggestions along with what TA's own research had told them, they were able to get an understanding of which elements resonate best with consumers. It was uncovered that Australia's wildlife is a really big strength and It’s something that uniquely puts Australia over and above competitor destinations.
It was discovered from the focus groups that the most impactful type of content was when it presented something new or unique about that destination. Not necessarily something the particpants had already known, but something a bit different, or something that might have changed their perception of what they thought before which really helped increase their likelihood to go there.
Surveys were conducted online with consumers across Australia, the UK, and the US. Participants were asked about how they had used Virtual Reality to help them select a holiday destination and they found that a fifth of the consumers had used VR in the past to help them select a destination, and a quarter were planning to use it in the future. It was clear to see that number would jump if they had a positive experience with VR.
Once the initial research was completed it was time to execute. Creating 360 Degree Assets was the first time TA had ever done a shoot of that kind. Working out how to film a 360 degree video was quite a challenge, so choosing the right production partner was key. There was a number of challenges due to the scale of the campaign, they had to have a contraption made up of drones in order to capture some of the 360 degree aspects. They shot 18 experiences, all across the whole country, which is a very long shoot, and very complicated to execute. Execution is the trickiest part, especially when it hasn’t done it before.
TA identified engagement was a key performance indicator for the campaign. Across all of the platforms, Facebook, YouTube, they've had 10.5 million views, which is a phenomenal result, across all of their key markets. It proved virtual reality gives you the ability to really engage with the consumers in a way that traditional media channels don’t. The number of views was higher than most content but the engagement levels and the time spent engaging was much stronger than a normal video. It helped show that strong engagement helped lead people through the purchase funnel allowing a much greater ability for moving people from awareness to consideration, and consideration through to purchase.
After a campaign of this size and investment, it can be a significant learning curve. The biggest challenge with Virtual Reality is you need to be able to manage the reach versus engagement. The nature of it is that it doesn’t have huge reach unless you select certain media channels. Selecting channels such as Facebook and Youtube enable larger reach rather than just a headset which is limiting the amount of people that you do reach.
The relative success of the campaign suggested strongly that it is something Tourism Australia will continue to look at moving forward. It’s just the beginning for Virtual Reality and it lends itself really really strongly to the travel space, being very experiential in nature. They’ve used it as a tool, with their Aussie Specialists program using it with 33,000 of their agents through the program. This gives the Aussie Specialists the ability to actually see what some of these experiences are like really helping them understand the offering that Australia has, and therefore sell it.
The takeways for the industry are quite significant. The extensive research Tourism Australia conducted leading in to this project is a great asset to the greater industry in that it provides a proof of concept. It's clear to see that VR does align with tourism as a great communication tool that is highly engaging, allowing a clear concise message delivery.
Managing the risk of a big purchase, and previewing the destination or the experience is another insight garnered from this campaign. Giving consumers an idea of what is in store for them, managing expectations and enhancing the whole user experience.
Obviously this was a large scale campaign enabled by the budget of a bigger organisation, but VR campaigns like this are like any other marketing campaign and that is scalable. VR can be more cost effective than people think it is. As an example for smaller operators with really tight budgets, the key would be leveraging off what some of the bigger players are doing. Tourism Australia have released all of their VR assets for use for the broader industry. Airlines and other products are putting together assets which feature the whole destination.
Sharing assets is by far the most cost effective way for everyone to, in some way, step in to the world of VR. Tourism Australia have helped start that process by creating the start of a 360 video library.