The South Australian Tourism Commission’s Alison Hassel hails from sunny California. She says: “I seek good food and wine, I’m a total lover of animals, get sucked into Netflix binges and am always looking for my next adventure.” Alison arrived in Australia in 2005 to embark on a career in fashion design. “Realising my childhood dream was not meant to be, I quickly found my true professional calling in public relations. I joined the South Australian Tourism Commission in February 2016 and am responsible for managing the destination public relations and content team. Prior to joining the SATC, I led the communications strategy for the iconic South Australian institution, Zoos South Australia, which operates Adelaide and Monarto Zoos.” Read more below.
Can a Californian promote South Australia?
If you’re passionate, dedicated and believe in something wholeheartedly, absolutely. As a Californian, I feel I have a slight advantage in helping to promote South Australia as I have no pre-conceived bias of the state having not grown up here. It completely baffles me, but South Australians are the harshest critics of their own state. We are extremely lucky with what we have here – a contemporary, boutique city with a thriving restaurant and bar scene, fantastic weather, beautiful beaches, amazing wine regions and the best event and festivals line-up in the nation. Plus, a state as a whole that offers so many exceptional experiences within easy reach of the capital city.
P.S. If you try to tell me there is nothing to do in Adelaide/South Australia we will have a problem!
You managed PR for Zoos SA for more than four years. What are some of your favourite memories of that time?
Oh that’s a hard one, I have so many wonderful memories I don’t know where to start! The panda breeding season was always a bit of a whirlwind and celebrating animal births was always fun. In my time at the zoo we celebrated the birth of a number of significant animals from chimpanzees, rhinos, cheetah, hyena, monkeys, capybaras just to name a few.
One of my most vivid memories is of watching the sun rise over Monarto Zoo with the giraffe silhouetted against the morning light. It was like waking up on the plains of Africa, but I was only less than an hour from the CBD. I was hosting The Advertiser and the shot they took of male giraffe Tambo made the front cover of the newspaper that week.
I am also very proud of the fact that I secured production of a documentary on the ABC that told the story of Adelaide Zoo’s female orang-u-tan Karta that struggled to raise a family of her own. Her personal story coupled with the story of those that worked with her and shared a special bond made for a very emotional 30 minutes of TV. Sadly, Karta passed away earlier this year giving birth to a stillborn infant.
You’re somewhat newer to the tourism industry – what struck you as being particularly different to tourism PR, when you started in this role?
Yes and no: my work at the zoo was quite heavily focused on destination PR in addition to internal communications and corporate and stakeholder management.
With destination PR you are mainly talking to one audience – the consumer – so you need to pay particular attention to creating stories that inspire travel. You need to find that unique selling point that positions the destination or product in a way that someone in Prospect, Melbourne or even Berlin for that matter gets the overwhelming sense that they need to do that particular thing right now or see that particular sight.
Managing the destination PR for the state, you have an enormous responsibility managing a wide range of stakeholders from operators to travel partners, the media, regional bodies and everyone in between. It can be hard to please everyone, but at the end of the day you need to stay focused and align your activities to the SATC’s strategic direction and brand pillars.
Can you describe how the SA Tourism Commission divides its PR responsibilities, when you have intrastate, interstate and international audiences you are trying to reach?
Within the team that I manage we are responsible for the destination PR and content on a global scale. I have one person devoted to managing our domestic activity and another that is responsible for our international PR with a PR coordinator as support. I also have a dedicated team that develops travel itineraries for visiting media and influencers, while my social media and content team looks after the @southaustralia social media accounts, content on southaustralia.com and our consumer newsletter.
Depending on the market, we look to position the state differently. Internationally we focus on promoting mostly nature and wildlife and food and wine and luxury experiences. We also work very closely with Tourism Australia and leverage its major campaigns. Domestically we focus on the ‘best of South Australia’ through food and wine, events, arts and culture and Adelaide’s close proximity to a number of incredible regions – in what other capital city can you be in a wine region within 30 minutes of the city drinking the most incredible wine and feasting on the best local produce? Locally we aim to give equal share to all South Australian regions, finding the unique selling points of each, looking to showcase what’s new or the hero products of the region.
What advice would you give a third-year university student who’s keen to work in PR?
Get active in the local PR community, attend events and networking functions and take advantage of all additional learning opportunities. The job market is tough, so you might not get your dream job to start, but be willing to work hard and earn your stripes. It will be noticed. Most importantly, continue to expand your professional knowledge. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t learn something new.
Time for a fun question: what American tradition do you wish you could transplant to SA?
Thanksgiving! The time of year that I get the most homesick is the period from Halloween (31 October), through Thanksgiving (late November) into Christmas. Although Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Australia, I still make sure to cook a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings and invite a group of friends over for a big feast. It’s a holiday that is not based on religion, so it’s celebrated by all Americans and is usually the busiest travel period of the year as people head home to spend time with family. It’s a time to reconnect with family and be thankful for what you have.