Where to now for Brisbane’s tourism experiences? Lessons from the frontline - Choose Brisbane

Where to now for Brisbane’s tourism experiences? Lessons from the frontline

Words by John Sharpe, owner and founder at P&O Edge, Riverlife, Tangatours, Northshore Harbour

My journey into the creative side of Brisbane’s tourism industry started with science.

When I look at the things that drive Riverlife and the other tourism experiences we have in the market, the creativity of the team behind them is boundless. But when I was starting it was my technical expertise in height safety and risk management that gave me a bird’s-eye view of Brisbane and its potential for great tourism experiences.

Brisbane City Council had put out an expression of interest for a climb on the Story Bridge. And it was during this phase that they asked me to sit on their evaluation panel, but I was more interested in actually toying around with what was at the top of the bridge.

I went up there with a number of other engineers to look at the solutions around the climb and it was during that phase that I realised the river, the cliffs and the water's edge were an untapped resource, and it might be a good idea to get stuck in and start providing some adventure experiences.

The Story Bridge Adventure Climb and Riverlife opened within a month of each other.

Story Bridge Climb

Straight away, the insight that drives a lot of our business success became clear: it was hard for people to get on the river or on to the cliffs without either joining a climbing club or booking a full-day tour that also taught you how to tie ropes and put all your climbing gear together.

The opportunity was in being quick. Offering something for less than two hours. A fun but fleeting experience perfect for the types of visitors who come to Brisbane.

Shorter experiences, longer memories

We started putting together things like a 1½-hour kayaking trip or mountain biking around the edge of the river, or abseiling, or climbing with these short adventures. That was the main opportunity that I saw, and that trend is something other tourism products can learn from.

This was before the advent of social media, but as the digital world increasingly bonded with the physical world of our adventure experiences, the short experience business model became custom-made for the kind of social sharing and social proof tourism operators crave from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, among others.

And I think the timing was just perfect, because getting Brisbane people to understand what an adventure centre was got our local market really interested in the products, and people came to visit. They would bring people down to us and then tourists, of course, want to do what the locals do. That kind of advocacy - locals doing your marketing for you - is priceless.

Align yourself with the perfect partners

Something that goes hand in hand with products that meld perfectly with digital experiences are key partnerships. My strategic partnerships have been extremely valuable to me as a small business operator and the hotels and cruise ships I work alongside.

To get together with larger businesses and then be able to provide that really good, key customer service in the area that they need is a match made in heaven (once the responsibilities and expectations are ironed out).

For instance, our partnership with P&O Cruises is an example of a relationship that just works. With a cruise ship you have 750 crew on board getting the ship from A to B and delivering the hotel experiences. But when it comes to concentrating on delivering the adventure activities part, P&O Edge, our experiences arm on P&O Cruises, it makes sense to have a team that specialises only in that.

It rings just as true with Tangalooma Island Resort, where we deliver the water sports or the massage and beauty. We don't have to worry about food and beverage, or keeping the accommodation clean, or bringing people over and transporting or all the things that go with running a resort. We only have to concentrate on delivering those adventure activities. And our relationship with Tangalooma on that front strikes a great balance and fills all the right gaps.

It makes sense to partner. We've had some great partnerships with Brisbane City Council, Brisbane Marketing, State Government and now we're together with the guys from Howard Smith Wharves, delivering Story Bridge Adventure Climb. Partnerships to me have been key to the success of our businesses.

Grasping Brisbane’s experience opportunities

Brisbane’s tourism numbers are going in the right direction.

In fact, in Brisbane the main thing that has helped us a lot is now an increase in accommodation available. People are no longer having to head to the Gold Coast to find reasonably priced accommodation, because it is here in Brisbane. We've seen a number of hotels, close to 20 hotels in the past 10 years, get off the ground. And then you've had a lot more short-term accommodation pop up.

So it's significant that not only have we had the increase in tourism, but they've had somewhere to stay and they've stayed a little longer. And the thing that has really helped for our business is it has taken away the seasonality. Ten years ago for instance it was a real struggle to get through winter. We just didn't have the people. But that’s changed.

And I'm hoping the word is getting around through China and Asia that South East Queensland and the whole of Queensland doesn't really see a harsh winter. So we have a real advantage there and it smooths out the operations for any tourism experience business planning on opening in Brisbane.

And therein lies the opportunity: Brisbane has the opportunity to increase the leisure, recreation and adventure side of our businesses. Queen's Wharf will be a game changer on this front, but there is room for more big experiences.

Just as the Gold Coast has its theme parks, Brisbane can be the holder of some really big leisure and adventure experiences, and become even more of a hub for the region.

Want to extend stay? Let’s act as a region

Brisbane, the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, the Darling Downs: I think these markets are critical to the success of Brisbane.

We have a city surrounded by these wonderful regions that offer beaches, islands, the country, the Scenic Rim and national parks, and they're all within a day’s return travel for you to get out to them. You can have your experiences, and you can come back to Brisbane to eat, stay and play.

Add the development of the second runway at the airport, and the cruise terminal, and you've suddenly been able to give people more than just a couple of days in a city. What you’re delivering are memorable experiences and you have people for a week who still can’t get around to see everything that’s possible. And then they come back.

If you put together the right packages, and you work with other tourism businesses, and you use technology to show people that there is a lot to do and it's really easy to book, and if you make it easier for the customer, all of a sudden Brisbane from a tourism perspective is the hub of South East Queensland, not just a gateway. I think that's what we need to do here.

That is what can keep our city full, vibrant and relevant.

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