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Carol Doyle, President, Study Cairns, Australia

Australia’s regional centres are starting to make ground on their big-city counterparts. But working in such a large yet sparse country – it’s almost three times faster driving from Brighton to Inverness in the UK than Sydney to Cairns – successes have been hard fought. Study Cairns president Carol Doyle explains why she thinks her city could become Australia’s top student destination and tells us the story behind how she got ICEF’s ANZA out of the capital cities for the first time last year.


Most [agents] had never been to Cairns before, and if they had, it had been from a tourist's perspective.

The PIE News: What is Study Cairns’ role?

Carol Doyle: We are the peak body for international education in Cairns (north Queensland), recognised by local government and now recognised by state government. To get that recognition to be a recognised study organisation by Trade and Investment Queensland really gives us some credence [in] the outside world.

The organisation itself is made up of key people from every education provider in the city. They pay to be a financial member, and we have an executive board that meets on a monthly basis and work towards a strategic plan which has three key areas. The first is destination marketing and branding, which we work with our tourism industry very closely on.

The second is the student experience, to make sure that the student experience is a quality experience. And the third strategy is about building our capacity. As we grow we ensure that we have good, affordable accommodation, for example.

“If we can keep [a student]  for up to five years of study, that’s worth over $250,000 to our economy”

The PIE: How do you get a provider to discuss their operations with other providers?

CD: We are competitors, but we all work together to make sure there’s a flow-on effect in Cairns. Our role becomes making sure there are pathways from study tours or school experiences to further study.

When you’re talking about the value of a student here, they’re worth $1,000 over five days to the economic value to Cairns. If a student’s here for a whole year, that’s $45,000, but if we can keep someone who might come to Cairns for anything up to five years of study, that’s worth over $250,000 to our economy.

Then you tend to find that maybe if they come for that period of time they might also be looking to staying on, taking an option of doing work rights as well and continuing on and working in the region for a couple of years as well. People might share their lives with us for anywhere from five to seven years.

The PIE: What was the process the organisation went through to receive government recognition?

CD: Long and hard!

At a local government level, it was really to try and convince our local council about the value of the input of money into our economy, which is very hard, because it’s really hard to collate data on a city basis. On a state level, I think the reason that we’ve been successful and recognised as an registered student organisation is because they can see that we are serious about what we’re doing.

We keep showing up at things. Our local council have given us grants over the years to attend events like ICEF’s ANZA, and we’ve been coming now for about six years. I think that also demonstrates to agents that our city is serious about education, that we keep coming along and that we keep talking about what we have to offer.

The PIE: Has convincing government, providers, students and agents of the benefits a Cairns education can have been a difficult process?

CD: It has, but we’re really passionate. We draw from the tourism industry because we have so many international people that come to Cairns. I think we’re very confident about the destination. We don’t make any apologies for the fact we are a regional city, because we know if we’re the leading tourism destination in Australia, why can’t we be the leading international education destination?

The PIE: How has that confidence translated into how the city is viewed?

CD: Five years ago when I talked to agents about coming to Cairns, they said: no, we only send students to Melbourne and Sydney because they’re the destinations people want. With the destination marketing that has been happening for the Great Barrier Reef and Cairns over the last five years, people are now saying: we want to experience Cairns. We’ve been to Melbourne, we’ve done Sydney, we are looking for something different.

Students can also get lost in big cities, and because we give them that friendly welcome from a tourism perspective, that flows on to international education. That reputation makes a difference.

The PIE: Is it hard to ensure people don’t only see Cairns as a tourism destination?

CD: I don’t think so. They realise there’s a reason Cairns is a tourism destination. It almost empowers people with a reason to come here. “People must go there for something, so therefore I’m going to be a part of that”.

“We don’t say we’re a regional city, we just say we’re Cairns with education facilities”

I think that works in our favour, but we’ve got to get the right messaging out. We are working with the tourism industry to include an education message in the stories they tell. In the same way they might be promoting the sporting opportunities from a tourism perspective, or for weddings, or a whole range of stuff, they have an education message as well.

The PIE: And do the tourism providers understand the benefit?

CD: Yes, they do. We have been running workshops with our tourism operators to be able to do that. For example, we ran a very successful edutourism workshop last year for our tourism providers to see how education and tourism could work together. We had 85 tourism operators that came to that locally. We were really blown away.

Tourism is a major employer globally. If a student is studying tourism management, they want to come to Cairns because they want to see the backstory of our tourism operators here. There’s actually study tours where students can get an internship with a local tourism operator and find out how they run it, have that part of their studies and take that back with them into their own country.

The PIE: Before the 2017 ANZA, Study Cairns ran a familiarisation tour with agents. How was that received?

CD: Very well. In building a relationship with agents, they’re very honest with us. Most of them had never been to Cairns before, and if they had, it had been from a tourist’s perspective. They had no concept of the education facilities that we have, and we took them to everything. They now see the breadth of the education experience here in Cairns and the quality of it as well. They’re very excited about taking that home.

We haven’t had to do a hard sell or even a soft sell. They’re now coming to us and saying: we want to bring students, this is what we would like to do on your behalf. We’re talking business. You can tell they’re not here just for a free fam trip to get to know the area; they’re here to do business.

“People are saying: we’ve been to Melbourne, Sydney, we are looking for something different.”

The PIE: Why did you want Cairns to host ANZA?

CD: When we first participated in ANZA six years ago, we kept saying that this would be a great way for us to showcase what is available in other parts of Australia. What we really believe is that we don’t say we’re a regional city, we just say we’re Cairns with education facilities. It is about the destination.

Every year we have worked on them to try to do this. Three years ago was when we realised we had a real chance to be able to have it here. We’ve been getting the organisers to come here to have a look at the facilities.

The PIE: So the event is the culmination of six years just to get ANZA and 450 people to come to Cairns. Do you feel vindicated?

CD: Absolutely! And I have on tape [ICEF Asia Pacific vice president] Rod Hearps, the organiser, saying this is the best ANZA that they’ve ever had in ten years, so that’s so exciting to hear!


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