Tourism New Zealand will have a new chief executive for the first time in a decade when Kevin Bowler takes over in January. He'll have the big shoes of George Hickton to fill, but he's looking forward to sinking his teeth into the new role, in which he will be responsible for overseeing the international marketing for New Zealand in over 15 countries.
Bowler, who has a background in marketing, fast moving consumer goods and online telecommunications, says he applied for the job because he’s passionate about New Zealand and wanted to do something beyond growing a company for profit.
“Tourism also makes a big contribution to the way we grow businesses’ economic wealth, and that of New Zealand,” he says.
He spent several years with Telecom, where he worked on projects like T3G and $10txt before moving on to head Telecom’s consumer marketing division. He also worked in fast moving consumer goods marketing, starting with Unilever and NZ Dairy Foods. In the UK he worked for Rank Hovis McDougall foods and he also has experience in advertising account management for Air New Zealand and Cadbury.
Most recently, he was head of YahooXtra so, given his lack of tourism experience, he says his first priority is education.
"I’m new to tourism and I have a lot to learn about all aspects of the industry. I want to meet the people at Tourism New Zealand and as many of our stakeholders as quickly as possible. I want to hear what we’re doing well and what we’re not doing so well and build a picture of what needs to happen.”
So what does he think about 100% Pure?
“The brand we are supporting is New Zealand and 100% Pure is a mechanism that supports that brand. That doesn’t mean 100% Pure New Zealand isn’t important. It has given New Zealand a richer meaning through its presence, but it’s a campaign, not a brand.”
He has particular concerns about the line being too closely aligned with New Zealand’s environmental performance, believing that 100% Pure New Zealand remains more about the experience and feeling of a trip to New Zealand. But he has no plans to change it.
“I don’t think I’d be keen to change it at all. It‘s been and can continue to be very strong. We just need to shape what it means and make sure that it doesn’t come to mean ‘100% green’, and we need to be very clear about what it does mean,” he says.
All his marketing experience has taught him to "put the customer at the centre of your decision-making and don’t assume you know what they are thinking".
“As a young product manager at Unilever in Petone, one of the products I worked on was Persil and as a 23/24-year-old, with no domestic skills, I learnt that I really needed to understand what the customer thought of the product.”
And that lesson has been reiterated with many products and services since.
The online realm is exciting for Bowler and he says the best way to explain the power of the Internet is to see the world through the eyes of a “digital native”, someone in their twenties in Tokyo or London who lives a digital life, where their social lives, dates, banking, shopping and conversations are all done via the web.
In terms of travel, he believes people are looking online for buying and pricing comparisons and reading reviews, but more by other travellers like themselves than by paid journalists.
For New Zealand and Tourism New Zealand, this opens up options for taking a niche brand and destination and putting it into niche travel areas. He gives the example of a 35-year old British traveller who likes golf, but wants to go on holiday with their family.
“Wouldn’t they really want to talk to someone like themselves who went to New Zealand with their family and then find out what they did and what they liked and what worked because there was something for their partner and children to do while they went to play golf. Helping people find ways to be reassured to make a purchase to travel feels like a really rich space to me,” he says.
He says an approach to market development which is disjointed from the industry is a “sure fire way to get sub-optimal results”, so he is particularly keen to look at how the organisation can get in better touch with the industry.
“New Zealand is a niche destination with small promotional budgets; and travellers aren’t interested in our lines of delineation. When considering traveling here they simply want to ‘find out’, ‘compare’, and ‘buy’.”
Bowler starts on 18 January.
*This story featured in the December edition of Tourism New Zealand's newsletter.