Tourism Research Australia’s recipe for success: regular innovation and a client focus

12 December 2022

A love of data and the stories it tells drew Rod Battye and Justin Marshall to Tourism Research Australia (TRA) around 20 years ago. A quest for innovation is what keeps them there.

Data Innovation and Partnerships Manager (Battye) and Acting Manager, Data Analysis and Insights (Marshall) describe TRA’s evolution from surveys to using leading-edge complementary data.

‘Complementary data gives new, more timely insights that surveys can’t. Surveys offer a reliable foundation for collecting tourism data. Together, they can give a broader range of information to our clients. This helps them make the best data-driven decisions possible,’ Battye says.  

The need for numbers

In 1987, the Australian Government partnered with state and territory tourism bodies to fund the Bureau of Tourism Research (BTR). BTR would eventually become TRA. The government needed accurate tourism data to inform policy. They were also motivated to understand the economic potential of tourism because:

  • the Australian Tourism Commission had heavily invested in promoting Australia as a tourism destination, with Paul Hogan inviting America to Come and Say G’Day
  • Commonwealth, state and territory governments were investing in infrastructure and events for the 1988 Bicentenary
  • international visitor numbers were approaching 2 million for the first time.

(Source: Folia Turistica, Respecting the past, preparing for the future: the rise of Australian academic tourism research, Philip L. Pearce, Foundation Professor of Tourism, James Cook University 2011).

Client focus drives innovation

TRA has always had a client focus because it was set up and funded by the data’s end users. The team’s commitment to improve the speed, accuracy and breadth of tourism data and analysis has led to innovation and world-class techniques.

In the early 2000s, TRA’s survey data was released 9 months after the reference period. The data was collected in Australia and compiled in India. It was then distributed on a compact disk and called “CD MOTA” (Compact Disk Monitor of Tourist Activity). It was a slow process, relying on the mail to send information back and forth.

Battye was on the International Visitor Survey (IVS) team and would visit airports to do the observations. ‘I’d meet businesspeople on these trips who complained by the time they get this data, it’s too late. They’ve moved on!’ Battye says. ‘So we knew we had to build the expertise in-house, and speed it up.’

Building a world-class team

Both Marshall and Battye have held a variety of roles at TRA. In its 35 years, TRA has been aligned with different Commonwealth Government departments. Its resources have been scaled up and down.

Marshall explains, ‘At TRA, one person can be involved in data collection to analysis then releasing results. This person may also share insights with stakeholders, policy officers and marketers at the other end. It’s very rewarding.

‘People would be surprised at the number of technical specialists,’ he adds. ‘In the TRA model, it’s not so much that one person is good at just one thing like being a data engineer. People need multiple skills. Looking at the outputs you might think it’s the work of 40 people – but that’s because each person has multiple skills.’

Today, Austrade’s TRA has a small team and an international reach. Its data collections and analysis methodology, including the benchmarking against international arrivals data, are compliant with the United Nations World Trade Organisation’s ‘gold standard’. Battye, himself, is in his fourth year as Vice-Chair of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD’s) Working Party on Tourism Statistics.

TRA’s lead role in the future of Australia’s visitor economy

THRIVE 2030 is the long-term strategy for the sustainable growth of Australia’s visitor economy. TRA is leading one of the strategy’s 7 priorities – “improve data and insights”. The visitor economy needs better and more timely data and analysis as it emerges from the pandemic and prospers.

The THRIVE 2030 Industry Data and Expert Analysis Working Group (IDEA Working Group) was formed to identify and deliver future industry data needs. Chaired by TRA, a critical project for this group is the development of the Longitudinal Indicators for the Visitor Economy (LIVE) Framework. This will identify the core metrics and the associated data sources that will measure long-term performance of the visitor economy.

‘The best thing about turning 35 is knowing we’ve lasted the distance,’ says Battye. ‘We’ve survived because we’re relevant and we keep up. We meet clients’ needs, even as those needs change.

‘Our people and partnerships are so important. There’s such a diverse range of stakeholders in tourism, and TRA staff have the communication skills and passion to support them.

‘Today, we’re looking to provide a broader range of insights. We will explore new geographies, and we will do all this more quickly.’

Marshall adds, ‘The future is bright. The potential is there. TRA’s a good place to work. It’s challenging, and the results will be exciting. We’ll make sure we continue to be there – at the leading edge.’

Visit the TRA website to find out how its research and data can help you.

Learn more

Using data and research to support better business decisions and achieve positive economic and social outcomes is just one priority of THRIVE 2030.

Visit THRIVE 2030 to learn about this industry-led, government-enabled strategy to support the visitor economy across Australia.