Indian Ocean Fest puts region on travellers’ menu

A food themed destination event has put Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands on the menu for adventure travellers and culinary tourists. The Indian Ocean Fest showcased the best of what visitors can expect both above and below the waterline, while generating long term benefits for the region.

Located closer to Asia than the Australian mainland and surrounded by the third-largest ocean in the world, this remarkable region is full of possibilities for world travellers and inspired investors, with extraordinary natural treasures both above and below the water.

Australia’s Indian Ocean Territories (IOT) are made up of Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and are located 2,600 km from Perth, Western Australia. 

The IOT RDO developed a pilot for an Indian Ocean Fest (the Fest) to generate destination awareness and deliver new content and media coverage and generate economic benefits, which extend well beyond the eight-day adventure and drive tourism to the region. This was achieved by a program of high visual activities, content rich imagery and a high-profile ambassador – in the TV presenter, cook and former MasterChef winner Poh Ling Yeow.

Held on Christmas Island from 21-28 June 2022, the event aligned with the Christmas Island Strategic Plan 2030 and the Cocos Keeling Islands Strategic Plan 2030, which both identify tourism as a key sector for economic growth and job creation in the region.

The Fest was designed to coincide with the proclamation of Australia’s newest marine parks in the Indian Ocean Territories which cover more than 740,000 square km of remote deep water and inshore reefs and lagoon habitats. The event was collaboration with principal partner, Australian Marine Parks, to help educate and promote the importance of the region’s marine protected areas.

High yield, adventurous and influential travellers from around Australia, including representatives from Tourism Australia, Australian Traveller, and food and travel journalists and photographers, were invited to take part in unique experiences showcasing the territories as tourism destinations. There was a range of activities on offer. This included curated national park walks and marine experiences hosted by Parks Australia; citizen science activities on how to protect our oceans with conservation partners Tangaroa Blue Foundation; and diving into the blue with local dive operators.

Using an event to promote a destination is known to be an effective marketing tool. The benefits of this approach for the IOT included: an increase of tourism dollars into the community and greater awareness around the destination experience offered. The event also showcased the destination outside of the typical tourist season while highlighting the strong point of difference and unique features of the region.

To further boost and increase the presence and reach of the destination marketing through digital and social media platforms, the RDO recruited a high-profile ambassador.

Malaysian-born Australian cook and Former MasterChef winner Poh was identified as a great fit due to her high social media profile. Her Malay Chinese heritage put her in a unique position to showcase the cuisine and importance of culture on Christmas Island for the Indian Ocean Fest and beyond.

As part of her role, Poh attended the Fest and participated in Stories with Spice - cooking with local island Aunties [pictured] and sharing stories of the ingredients, traditions and island life.

Poh was also featured in the content for the event. Along with distiller James Young and travel journalist Max Veenhuyze, Poh took part in a series of short promotional videos Find your culture.

There 12 articles published in Australian Traveller online magazine including 14 things you didn’t know about Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Uncover the best culture and foodie experiences on Christmas Island. The Australian Traveller campaign (March – July 2022) was direct mailed to 1,035,869 subscribers and achieved a social reach of 127,736 engagements. Poh's social media posts on  the Indian Ocean Fest and Christmas Island reached more than 242,316 people.

Local engagement builds local capacity

A core principle for the Indian Ocean Fest was to offer opportunities for local businesses to increase their capability and/or capacity, and for there to be benefits to the wider community. The IOT Regional Development Organisation (RDO) engaged several local operators to provide travel agent services, experiences, event coordination, venues, catering and other event supplies, and photography/videography.

More than 25 local businesses have shared direct financial benefit from this pilot event. The RDO donated equipment bought specifically for the event to the community. The local school was given kayaks and inflatable stand-up paddle boards to promote marine science education. The lifesaving team at the Christmas Island Recreation Centre received rescue boards to enhance their water safety capabilities.

Feedback from target market participants has been incredibly positive. Ticket sales were valued at more than $80,000, and $170,000 in income was generated for the region. The Fest was designed to generate destination awareness and deliver new content, coverage and word of mouth which will extend well beyond this eight-day event. The event has created interest in Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands, with the real benefits for tourism and the community to be realised as more people travel to the region and have the opportunity to experience its food, unique culture and stunning natural assets.

Learn more:

[L – R] 'Stories with Spice' dinner with Indian Ocean Fest Ambassador Poh Ling Yeow and Christmas Island Aunties Faridah Bahrom and Sanniah Kawi.
The Fest by Numbers


Published 30/09/2023