Australian travel company APT’s Fiona Corsie has reason to feel pleased with her journey so far.
Fiona Corsie says travel is in her DNA. After growing up overseas and travelling extensively, Corsie has been in the Australian communications industry for close to two decades. For this whole time, she’s been at privately owned tour operator APT Travel Group, which itself dates to 1927.
“In July, I’ll have been here for 19 years,” she says. “They’re a bit hard to leave.”
Corsie is APT’s content and communications marketing manager. As one of the longest-serving content experts in Australia’s travel industry, she has traversed the journey from sales brochures and clunky websites through print and digital to always-on social media and video content. More than most, she understands what inspires customers to dust off their passports and cash cards and live their dreams.
One of four children to a Scottish father and Malay-born mother, Corsie grew up in Singapore and India before going to school in Perth. She says her father had a standing 21st birthday present for his children – a one-way ticket to London. “The day after I was 21, I was on that plane.” She spent the following 12 years on the road as a tour guide.
“You really learn to stand on your own two feet and be independent,” she says of her experiences as a pre-internet world traveller. “There’s no safety net. Whenever you travel it’s just your own unique experience, but when I look at social media and things like that these days, I sort of think we’re a bit lucky we weren’t so connected. Isolation can be very good for growing.”
Exposed to so much at a young age, Corsie developed a love for quality storytelling. She began her career at APT in Melbourne as a copywriter in 1999 and completed a postgraduate diploma in publishing and editing at RMIT in the early 2000s. One of the units was “Electronic Publishing”. After returning from maternity leave, she asked her boss if she could update the website.
“At that stage, the website was literally three or four pages, and mainly serviced the US market,” Corsie says. “It was pretty much ‘contact us’ and that was about it. He was like, ‘Yeah, OK, I don’t think there’s anything really going on with it and I’m not sure if anything ever will. Have a go at it.’ And that was it.
“It was quite forward-thinking of the boss because we re-did the website and put an e-commerce engine on it. You’re talking 2003-2004. There were very few e-commerce sites, let alone travel websites that were e-commerce, at that time. We rolled out 13 sites in three years.”
Soon, however, she was searching for something more within APT. “I really wanted to get back to creative, and leave the analytics and the measurements and all the bits that come with digital,” she says. “That’s when we talked about moving into forming something that was more focused on content, and in working across the full team with various forms of content and trying to bring the story to life in other ways. I was very lucky.”
One of Corsie’s pet projects is Voyage, APT’s glossy club magazine produced with Sydney-based content agency Storyation. The magazine was produced in-house for many years before Corsie put it out for competitive tender in 2016. The following year, Voyage was named Custom Publication of the Year at Australia’s Publish awards and a finalist in the Best New Print Publication – Editorial category in the global Content Marketing Awards in the US.
“We needed to get fresh eyes on it,” she says. “We needed to give it more of an edge – not just overtly promoting our product, but having really nice travel articles about the destinations we go to. Storyation has been a really good sort of culture fit for the business – they understood what we’re trying to do.”
“You’re creating [stories] for the pragmatist, the person who’s looking for information, as well as someone who’s more emotionally driven, who’s a dreamer.”Fiona Corsie
In general, Corsie believes the travel industry does a fine job presenting its case to customers. “To produce really good quality pieces of content is an investment from any business, and it’s everywhere,” she says. “You jump on a plane, you’ve got beautiful magazines to read for as long as it is that you’re on that flight. There’s so travel content available on YouTube and social media. Even the travel advertising in the weekend papers is inspirational, though I’m sure there’s probably some hideous stuff out there, too.”
She is also impressed with how much exciting and impactful material is produced by travellers themselves, and how this contrasts with what travel operators or government bureaux produce. “It’s always interesting to see what people come up with,” she says. “Young travellers with their phones – they might have a decent camera or even a drone – and all of their content is on YouTube for anyone to consume.
“There’s a lot going on, but I think the travel industry understands quality content. There’s a lot of it about so we’re really lucky that we can consume it and keep ourselves inspired.”
Corsie says the content that generally works best for her audience is informative, rather than entertaining or humorous. “Our particular clients love to be educated as part of their trip,” she says. “That education starts at the earlier research phases. They really engage with a video or nice bit of content that gives them an additional bit of information. As long as you can get past the cliche of a destination, and go in a little bit deeper and just find that angle, the story will have appeal to that audience.”
Despite her copywriting background, Corsie says video has become her preferred storytelling platform. “It’s a wonderful medium to work in,” she says. “The travel industry is married to video content because you can tell such an emotionally engaging story through video. I’m probably torn between the two because a beautifully crafted article is an amazing thing to read, too.”
Corsie says she doesn’t worry too much about content impact, mainly because of the multiple uses she and her clients extract from individual pieces of storytelling. APT produces an enormous amount of content, she says, so it’s hard for her to choose the stories that work best. “Some don’t get their time in the sun that you’d like them to have, but each has to have an ROI attached to it. We also produce content we share with our partners. So [each piece] has many lives once it’s created.
“All of them, I would hope, offer value to someone. Pieces that don’t resonate with me will resonate with someone else. You’re creating [stories] for the pragmatist, the person who’s looking for information, as well as someone who’s more emotionally driven, who’s a dreamer.”
One of the reasons Corsie feels “lucky” is that her pioneering digital experiences continue to give her insights into APT’s clients. “You definitely get to understand how different consumers or readers consume content and information,” she says. “How they consume content with a 72 DPI background is totally different from [how they read] a print publication.
“It’s like [placing] pieces of a puzzle in your life. You look back on everything you’ve done and it’s another little bit of skillset. At the end of the day, the picture starts getting a little bit fuller. Hopefully, I’m only halfway through my jigsaw puzzle.”
Links & references
How destination marketing content is contributing to over-tourism in Brand Tales
Tourism Australia’s journey of discovery in Brand Tales