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GUEST COLUMN: Come From Down Under

Conche native Toni Kearney poses in front of a "Come From Away" poster in Melbourne, Australia.
Conche native Toni Kearney poses in front of a

Toni Kearney

For the past two years, I have been living in what feels like some sort of dream in the gorgeous city of Melbourne, Australia. The streets are lined with colorful characters and crazy graffiti, with each nook and cranny of the alleyways tickled with eccentric cafes serving up the most delicious coffee and freshest food you’ll ever taste. The bars are packed and exploding with music. The palm trees sit among the Yarra River between skyscrapers, and the beach is merely a stone’s throw away. Melbourne has easily become one of my favourite places I’ve visited on the globe.

And it couldn’t be any more of a polar opposite to where home really is.

You won’t find a hidden alleyway to grab a flat white in Conche, Newfoundland, but you will find an open door to every home in the harbour, hot tea on offer in exchange for roaring conversation. Your favourite artists won’t sell out concert halls — but on select nights you can swing open any shed door to the wild antics of locals on acoustic guitars and accordions, singing songs as old as their ancestors. You can’t sip a cocktail on a sandy beach, but you can grab a case of cold beer and kick back on the rocky shores next to a blazing bonfire with your best mates.

For me, home is a rural fishing community on the opposite end of the Earth, nestled on a peninsula between rolling pine-clad hills, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean.

Throughout my time in Melbourne, I have been working in both the marketing and hospitality industries, meeting dozens of locals and travelers alike. And each interaction nearly turns out the same:

“What part of Ireland are you from?”

Smiling wide, I do not hesitate to explain, “I’m actually from Newfoundland and Labrador, which is in North Eastern Canada.”

Usually, this response leaves the other party with a puzzled look on their face, searching for context:

“Newfinland?”

“No, new-FOUND-LAND!”

It was as though not a soul in the Southern Hemisphere had a clue that Newfoundland even existed — until now.

“Come From Away,” the smash Broadway hit based on the stories of the stranded travellers to Gander during the 9/11 terrorist attacks, debuted at the iconic Comedy Theatre in Melbourne just a short few weeks ago. The musical has been captivating audiences all over North America — and now, down under in Australia.

During the premiere week of “Come From Away,” “Today,” the largest breakfast TV program in Australia, was flown to Newfoundland courtesy of N.L. Tourism and crown corporation Destination Canada, to explore all the island has to offer. Promoted during the segment was a contest by Air Canada and luxury travel company, ATP, for Aussies to enter to win a trip to Eastern Canada valued at $18,000 AUD.

Recently, when asked about my funny accent to learn my origins, there has been a change in response:

“Newfoundland! That is amazing! I can’t wait to visit!”

In a search trend analysis, research demonstrated the popularity for Newfoundland soared over 315 per cent over from June to July.

According to a study from Traveller.com, Australians are the world’s second-biggest spending travellers, dishing out nearly $4,000 on an overseas trip, versus the world average of only $2,300. When it comes to travelling, Aussies seek best bang for their buck to experience living culture in unique, unexplored places.

With this in mind alone, there is clearly great potential in successfully capturing the Australian traveller market as Newfoundland fulfills the values of the Aussie tourist. However, we must consider the challenges for N.L. Tourism in doing so, with the three greatest being distance, cost, and competition.

Firstly, going the distance between Newfoundland and Australia is one of the longest journeys you can embark on. Starting in the far Southern Hemisphere and ending in the North Atlantic, travellers would be literally visiting the other end of the earth, varying from 24-40 hours of travel time. Why wouldn’t Australians venture to a closer destination, minimizing transit time and maximizing vacation time?

Aside from length of travel, the cost of travel is extremely high. The cost of a flight from St. John’s to Melbourne can range from $1,000-1,400 one way per person. Therefore, the cost of getting to Newfoundland can account for a large portion of the traveller’s vacation budget, allowing less to be spent during the actual vacation days.

Lastly, we must recognize that visiting Newfoundland is merely an option for Australian travelers. If Australians could find a culturally unique experience elsewhere for less, why wouldn’t they be inclined to do so?

If N.L. Tourism chooses to continue marketing to Australians, they must work to position Newfoundland and Labrador as a premiere destination in comparison to other off-beat, unexplored destinations of the world. It is important to keep in mind the values of the Australian traveller — affordability, comfort, and cultural experiences — in mind when marketing to them. It is essential to remain relevant in the minds of Australians, and work to maintain awareness of the N.L. Tourism brand.

Will we see any Australian travellers come from away and visit Newfoundland during next year’s tourist season? Only time and the efforts of the Tourism N.L. marketing team will tell.

(And perhaps my daily efforts of blabbering on and on to everyone I know in Melbourne about how special my home on the antipodal corner of the earth truly is, and why Newfoundland and Labrador MUST be on their travel bucket list).

Toni Kearney is originally from Conche. She writes from Melbourne, Australia.


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