Ad

Tourism Australia splashes cash on social media stars, led by one linked to Hong Kong protests

December 17th, 2019 | | news

Tourism Australia splashed more than half a million dollars on social media influencers in 2018-19, alongside other government enterprises such as Australia Post.

Key points:

  • Tourism Australia paid more than half a million dollars to social media influencers in 2018-19
  • The largest single amount was paid to Chinese pop star Hins Cheung, who has been embroiled in controversy about Hong Kong protests
  • Tourism Australia says all influencers were approved by two managers under an internal framework

But the organisation turned its back on social media stars from Australia’s biggest source of tourists, China.

Instead, it gave $112,500 in taxpayer funding — the highest amount for any individual — to a Hong Kong singer who has been reportedly dubbed a “secessionist mouse dropping” by a Chinese military newspaper.

Hins Cheung was born in mainland China but expressed sympathy for pro-democracy protestors of the so-called umbrella movement in Hong Kong in 2014. He has subsequently denied he supports Hong Kong independence.

Tourism Australia said all influencers were approved by two managers under an internal framework, but would not confirm whether the risk of upsetting mainland Chinese was considered in its risk assessment.

“He was engaged on the basis that he is a popular Hong Kong singer and TV personality with a strong social media profile and would resonate with the target market of the campaign which was young, fashion-conscious Hong Kong travellers,” a spokesman said, noting no complaints about Cheung had been received.

A man smiles at the camera in a cowboy hat

PHOTO: Hong Kong pop star Hins Cheung wore a cowboy outfit while visiting Port Stephens. (Supplied: YouTube)

“The results of the broader campaign exceeded all targets, in terms of media coverage, social media exposure and resulting visitor arrivals.”

The decision to engage Cheung was made prior to the recent round of protests in Hong Kong.

Patrick L’Espoir Decosta, a senior lecturer in tourism at the ANU, said as the marketing was focused narrowly at the Hong Kong audience, the likelihood of a backlash was low — but he noted paying social media influencers was risky.

“Beyond the value that social media influencers may create for brands, products, and so on, the content of what they create on social media is often out of the company or organisation’s control.

“This is also true for behaviour which, if it is perceived by the market as negative, can damage the brand.”

Alongside radio DJ Ronald Tong, Hins Cheung filmed four short videos that promoted experiences in Sydney and Port Stephens.

The footage was broadcast on lifestyle news platform HK01 and Hins Cheung’s social media platform.

A video shot in Port Stephens has been viewed almost 60,000 times on YouTube, while another set in Bondi has attracted close to 380,000 views.

Behind tourism marketing

A chart showing China is the largest single source of trips to Australia

PHOTO: China topped short-term visitor arrivals in 2017 but its growth has subsided. (ABS)

China provides the largest number of visitors to Australia. Its residents took 126,500 short trips to Australia in September according to the ABS, more than New Zealand (118,00) and the US (69,100). Those from Hong Kong took close to 30,000 trips.

No social media influencers targeting China were used in 2018-19, but Tourism Australia confirmed some have been used in the past.

“Approximately 90 per cent of our Greater China marketing budget is spent in mainland China, going towards a range of activities which typically include high-profile broadcast projects, hosting international media and various types of paid-for advertising,” Tourism Australia’s spokesman said.

“Our overseas markets each determine how they allocate their local marketing budgets, depending on where they see the best potential return on investment.”

Shikhar Dhawan leans back with arms outstretched. He is smiling and has his helmet removed. Virat Kohli stands in the foreground

PHOTO: Indian cricketer Shikhar Dhawan was paid $45,400. His social media post and video garnered 183,000 ‘likes’. (AP: Aijaz Rahi)

Tourism Australia’s other influencer campaigns targeted India, Japan and Germany.

Those paid included Indian internet celebrities Kusha Kapila and Dolly Singh ($20,000 combined), as well as cricketer Shikhar Dhawan ($45,400).

“Social media essentially provides the platforms for e-word of mouth and through pictures, comments, and videos can become convincing, cheap marketing tools for brands, products and destinations,” Mr Decosta said.

Tourism Australia assesses each influencer for reach, whether their reputation is on the rise, how well they fit with Tourism Australia, and how risky they are.