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ATE 2024: Brendan McClements, CEO Visit Victoria on key markets and promoting all regions

At ATE 2024, Karryon spoke with Brendan McClements on which international markets the state is focused on, the surge in hotels in Melbourne, and how it plans to leverage its reputation through its marketing campaigns.

At ATE 2024, Karryon spoke with Brendan McClements on which international markets the state is focused on, the surge in hotels in Melbourne, and how it plans to leverage its reputation through its marketing campaigns.

McClements says the state has worked hard, with Tourism Australia as one of its partners, on its global immersive and Lived Experience campaign.

“That’s been working to train 50,000 to 60,000 travel agents in what Victoria is through the Aussie Specialist Program. We’ve bought probably 2,000 people to Victoria over the last couple of years to try and get them immersed in the way we work,” said McClements.

“What we know through our net promoter scores that Tourism Australia shares is that when people leave Melbourne, it is rated as the best city in Australia. We’ve been trying to really take advantage of this idea that the way in which you understand Melbourne is to have come to Melbourne,” he said.

ATE 2024 marked the ninth time the state has hosted ATE, and its first since 2015. This year, the state had 450 buyers and media disburse into the state to experience 330 products over a two-week period.

Visit Victoria representatives hand out tofu lemon donuts from Melbourne’s Onigiri to ATE 2024 delegates. Image: Katrina Holden.

McClements says Victoria will be leaning into its partnerships with airlines, Tourism Australia, and key distribution partners (including travel agents) at various times around the world.

“We’re really pleased with the work we’ve been doing with the aviation sector and with individual airlines. Melbourne’s really pleased it’s back and was probably the first city in Australia to come back to 100 per cent capacity. It’s not the same mix, but with the same volume,” he said.

He says that Victoria’s global Every Bit Different campaign, launched at the beginning of 2024, was a way of talking about what Melbourne and Victoria is.

“It’s this idea that we’re a sort of combination of things. We know we haven’t got some of those natural icons that other cities have, but what we do have is this incredible response from people who’ve been here,” he said.

“We think that is one of the best ways we can do it: get people to come here and experience it and that is focused a lot on how do we get our trade partners and travel agents from other parts of the world to experience what Melbourne has.”

Key markets

Delegates in front of Ruby Roo at ATE 2024
Delegates in front of Ruby the Roo at ATE 2024 in Melbourne. Image: Katrina Holden.

Pre pandemic, McClements says that visitation to the state was roughly a 30/30/30 split – 30 per cent came from Victorians travelling; 30 per cent were Australians travelling; and 30 per cent were internationals.

“In international markets, we see China and India as very important, and we see our traditional long haul markets, America and Europe, and the UK in particular is critically important,” he said.

“We’re always got an eye on what’s happening here. Because there’s some emerging important markets that we feel maybe we’re a little bit under serviced – Korea, for example, we’d love to see direct flights.

“We share broadly Tourism Australia’s 15 priority markets. They work across mainland Europe, UK, US, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Japan, China. They’re all important markets to us with opportunities to get going, and in Japan, particularly where there is a very strong reliance on the travel agent network. That’s that’s one market that we will be focusing on too,” he said


Joel Katz, Managing Director of CLIA Australasia and Jill Abel, CEO Australia Cruise Association at the ATE 2024 Welcome Party event. Image: Katrina Holden.

McClements says that cruising is important to Australia and can play a key role in moving visitors to other parts of the state.

“Every state at various times have had their own challenges and catching up with the demand that we’ve seen through cruising. I think of Sydney and the debate about the International Terminal there, and obviously Melbourne has had its turn in the last last little while, but cruising provides good opportunities. There’s obviously growth in that market,” he said.

“The cruise lines are interested in coming, provided we can accommodate the challenges there might be in bringing the boats across the world – at the moment, it seems to be a bit of a complicated route. But there’s always good discussions with the cruise industry,” he said.

“From a Victorian perspective, it’s not just Melbourne but also the opportunity to move around the bays and down to Mornington Peninsula and through the Great Ocean Road… cruising offers a way of getting people around,” he said.

The Melbourne hotel boom

The-Ritz-Carlton-Melbourne-swimming-pool_ATE 2024
The swimming pool at The Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne.

At the ATE 2024 press conference, McClements had revealed that Melbourne now has Australia’s largest hotel market with 26,121 rooms – which is 20.9 per cent higher than January 2020.

When asked how the supply and demand for hotel room was tracking, McClements said that this week during ATE, overall occupancy was sitting at around 72-73 per cent.

“One of the great things about having that volume of hotel rooms is you can grow quickly. You have the capacity to digest large amounts of people with airline capacity back to 100 per cent. Plus, with the growth in our room stock, it means that we can put large numbers of people into the city regularly and we use the example of the recent Taylor Swift concerts,” he said.

“We’re seeing good volume now of about 72 per cent versus roughly 50 per cent for the same time last year in the occupancy levels. So it’s a really encouraging sign, from my perspective, that we have the capacity to add growth quickly. That’s why something like ATE is so important to continue to put the volume through the city because we know the city can accommodate it,” he said.

He cited a number of new hotels that represent exciting opportunities for travellers.

“As a visitor, it’s a perfect time to think about the hotel stock that’s here: The Ritz-Carlton, Melbourne; Le Méridien Melbourne; W Melbourne; Hotel Indigo Melbourne on Flinders has been renovated and reopened; The Royce Hotel and The Lyall (two beautiful boutique hotels); and The Standard in Fitzroy – it’s a great story for Victoria,” he said.

Promoting destinations beyond Melbourne

Grampians-credit Gagandeep Singh_ATE 2024_1000x648
The Grampians in regional Victoria. Image: Gagandeep Singh.

The Victorian destinations outside of Melbourne, says McClements, represent a critically important part for the state economically, with the visitor economy in some areas worth 60- 80% of their gross regional revenue.

“We need to find a way in those segments – international, interstate and intrastate – of accommodating people moving around. It tends to be most of regional Victoria’s visitor economy comes from Melbourne, so we work in different ways, ensuring that Melbournians are aware of what’s available,” he said.

On day one of ATE 2024, Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events Steve Dimopoulos announced an additional $21.8 million funding over four years to help the state market Victoria. Speaking of the funding, McClements said Visit Victoria will be focused on what regional Victoria has to offer to visitors – both intra, interstate and international.

“The proposition that we have, certainly for international visitors, is around Melbourne as Australia’s best city and because we are only three per cent of the land mass, there’s an extraordinary range of Australian experiences and nature at your fingertips,” he said.

“The Grampians has been one of the areas in this immersion program that’s getting the most extraordinary feedback as people go there. It’s a spectacular part of Victoria, with Indigenous art, kangaroos, wallabies, emu, extraordinary food at Dunkeld’s Royal Mail Hotel, wine regions, and not far from Warrnabmool on the coastline where the whales migrate.”

“International visitors are here in Australia to embrace some of these Aussie experiences….that’s what Melbourne offers and Victoria offers. That’s the way we’re trying to pull Victoria together as a proposition. I did say that yesterday to a number of the platinum travel buyers who are here: best city for visitors, nature at your fingertips!” said McClements.

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