Photo by Andrew Sutherland, Flickr Creative Commons

By Matthew L. Essex

John Aitken is the former CEO of Brisbane marketing—Brisbane’s economic development board. Public Diplomacy Magazine Staff Editor Matthew Essex interviewed Aitken over e-mail to discuss Brisbane’s efforts to establish itself as a global city and an international tourist destination. 

PD Magazine: Can you explain to our readers what the tagline “Australia’s New World City” means, and how it can be used to promote the city to foreign audiences?

John Aitken: The New World City term is one that Brisbane adopted because it perfectly encapsulates what our city represents and aspires to be.   

New world cities have certain traits in common such as affordability, agility, livability, and safety. They are mid-sized, benefit from efficient infrastructure, are recognized for expert specializations, and offer quality education and employment opportunities.

A key element of being a new world city is demonstrating leadership in areas of global importance. That’s why our city’s blueprint for economic growth—the Brisbane 2022 New World City Action Plan—identifies a range of industry sectors that offer the greatest opportunity for international competitiveness.

These sectors include: knowledge-based and corporate services; accommodation and visitor economy; higher and international education; energy and resources; creative and digital; property development and construction; advanced manufacturing; and food and agribusiness.

Brisbane aspires to be a place that supports industries that trade globally, are driven by high-tech innovation and research, and deliver the products and services that the world needs. Our new world city identity is therefore the basis for all the different ways in which we promote Brisbane to foreign audiences.

In 2014, Brisbane hosted the G20 Summit. Would you say that put the city back on the world stage after being “forgotten” since the Expo in 1988?

The G20 Summit was an enormous opportunity for Brisbane to demonstrate to the world that we were a globally orientated, modern, and welcoming new world city. It was arguably the most successful hosting of a G20 Summit, and that came down to the different approach that Brisbane took.

While in previous years the G20 had been an exclusive event for leaders and diplomats, Brisbane worked hard to make it inclusive for the local community, business, and industry.

Alongside the G20, Brisbane hosted the inaugural Global Café. This initiative brought together 75 of the world’s brightest minds to speak on important issues around improving human life, future cities, powering the economy, unlocking the opportunities of the digital age, and exploring the emerging frontiers of tourism. The Global Café social media hashtag was the number one hashtag in Australia during the event, proving the impact of Brisbane’s inclusive approach.

With so much of the world seeing Australia’s cities as either Sydney or Melbourne, how do you promote the fact Brisbane does exist, and is one of the world’s fastest growing cities?

Sydney and Melbourne are globally recognized in their own right. The world doesn’t need another Sydney or Melbourne, but it does need a Brisbane. This is why we are focused on growing world-class industries underpinned by technology advancements, which produce products and services that the world needs.

One example is the mining and resources industry. Queensland is renowned for its bountiful natural resources including coal, base metals, and coal seam gas. As the closest eastern seaboard capital city to Asia, Brisbane is perfectly positioned to capitalize on the world’s growing demand for these resources and has become a hub for company headquarters and expertise in mining equipment, technology, and services.

Increasing tourism to Brisbane is also important. In 2016, international visitors to the city reached an all-time high, and we want to keep building on this by developing tourism infrastructure, attracting major events, and promoting our thriving urban environment and surrounding natural assets.

Another point of difference for Brisbane is our long-term approach to driving economic growth, with a particular focus on the Asia-Pacific region. This is supported through Brisbane-run initiatives including the Asia-Pacific Cities Summit and Mayors’ Forum, the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, and the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards, which all strengthen Brisbane’s position as Australia’s new world city and a leader in the region.

Brisbane is home to the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards. How does this bringing together of filmmakers, culture, and the city showcase Brisbane to a vast audience in the Asia-Pacific Region?

Managing the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards and bringing together hundreds of the region’s most respected names in film is an incredible honor and responsibility.

Filmmaking is one of the most powerful storytelling mediums and by hosting the Awards, Brisbane takes the lead in promoting cultural diversity and showcasing the importance of the region to global prosperity.

The Awards certainly shine a spotlight on Brisbane, but the real value lies in the opportunity it presents to align with the future success of the region—culturally, socially, and economically. In this respect, APSA is about more than building the Brisbane film industry, it’s about building the Asia-Pacific industry.

One way for a city to attract global attention is through foreign investment and partnerships. What has Brisbane done to compete with not only Asian cities, but other Australian cities to attract investment, businesses, and to stimulate growth?

Brisbane is a proven leader in our approach to attracting foreign investment. In the past two years our city’s foreign direct investment strategy was ranked number one in the Asia-Pacific and fourth in the world by fDi Magazine—a division of the London-based Financial Times.

Brisbane’s foreign investment strategy is founded on the strategic needs of the city, and is based on visibility, authenticity, and certainty.

We do this by working with investors, local industry, and government to make investment opportunities visible, build partnerships, create procurement opportunities, and align with incentive programs.

The city has successfully implemented several fixed-term incentive schemes that support the growth of strategic sectors including hotel investment, purpose-built student accommodation, and more recently, aged care retirement living.

The city’s hotel investment incentive has helped to deliver a significant increase in quality accommodation in Brisbane, with 18 new hotel developments ranging from 3.4–5 stars opening doors since 2013, and another nine under construction.

How has the University of Queensland and others, including Griffith, attracted such a diverse and intelligent group of global students who see studying in Brisbane as an investment in their education?

Brisbane is home to three of Australia’s top universities, which are also ranked within the top 300 globally: the University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology, and Griffith University. These and other world-leading institutions attract students from across the globe due to their reputation for providing high quality education and training with access to some of the world’s top thought leaders and research projects.

In addition, international students are attracted to Brisbane because it is a safe, secure, and friendly city where they can enjoy a high quality of life and go on to access employment opportunities and pathways.

Attracting international students is a key element of Brisbane’s new world city strategy. Brisbane boasts over 75,000 international student enrollments annually and these students are critical to diversifying our community and economy.

Aside from taking a leading role in nurturing and developing global talent, as a city we are also hopeful that international students will go on to establish their careers in Brisbane or keep connections with our city in some way.

What is your message for an American considering a holiday to Australia, who might consider Brisbane, but see it as less “thrilling” than the Great Barrier Reef, the Outback, or Sydney?

Brisbane is a destination for holiday makers seeking an authentic Australian experience.

In Brisbane, visitors will discover a thriving and progressive multicultural metropolis that is steadily building its reputation as Australia’s new world city while keeping its quintessential warmth and welcoming spirit.

Brisbane is an open and easily accessible city serviced by one of Australia’s fastest growing airports. We have a flourishing, eclectic bar and dining scene, unique urban precincts, quality accommodation options, a rich diversity of leisure experiences, and some of the friendliest locals in the world.

While Brisbane is a destination of its own, the city is also an ideal gateway to some of Queensland and Australia’s most iconic natural wonders, including the Great Barrier Reef, surf beaches, idyllic sand islands, outback landscapes, and Heritage-listed rainforests.

I would invite any holiday maker to come and discover everything happening in Brisbane now.

Being centrally located between the Americas and Asia, how does Brisbane brand itself in so many diverse and different locations in the Pacific?

As a long-haul destination, we are mindful that Brisbane must present a compelling proposition for travelers. Whether it’s from a leisure, business, or education perspective, much of the destination positioning around Brisbane focuses on our iconic attributes and the life-changing experiences that are unique to the city.

Where do you see your international marketing working the best, and where do you need the most improvement?

The success of Brisbane’s destination positioning can be seen in the areas which we are already globally recognized such as higher education, sustainability, medical research, creative and digital capabilities, talent attraction, natural resources, and tourism.

The greatest opportunities lie in building our competitive advantage across a diversity of growth sectors: corporate services; visitor economy; international education; energy and resources; creative and digital; property and construction; advanced manufacturing; and food and agribusiness

Brisbane’s focus will remain on strengthening these growth sectors, facilitating collaboration between them on a local level, and supporting them to compete globally.

John Aitken is the former chief executive officer of Brisbane Marketing, the city’s economic development board. Prior to joining Brisbane Marketing, John was general manager events and marketing for Australia’s oldest event tradition the Sydney Royal Easter Show. He is currently the managing director of Inspiring Cities, an international consultancy providing city governments, investors, asset owners, precincts and districts, operators and businesses insights and advice on how to compete and trade globally. He is a member of a number of prominent boards and committees including: TTF (Tourism and Transport Forum) Advisory Board member and Chairman TTF Business Events Panel), former chairman of Australia Trade Coast; and former board member of Australian Association of Convention Bureau, Asia Pacific Cities Summit Organising Committee, Brisbane City Council Sister Cities Advisory Group and Queensland Exploration Council.