When Alison McDowell left high school, she went to secretarial college which set her on a career path working in tourism and travel marketing – a career she now lives, breathes and loves.
Alison's first job was with the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria (RACV), the largest member organisation in Victoria, where she worked in tourism product development building and managing industry relationships to create holiday experiences for RACV members.
“That’s where my passion for marketing, tourism and the customer really started,” she says.
Today, Alison is a seasoned marketing professional who is spearheading projects that are giving back to the community.
The heart of marketing
The heart of Alison’s involvement at each organisation she has worked for has been to understand customers and how to meet and exceed their expectations.
A major career highlight for Alison was working for BIG4 Holiday Parks at a time when the industry and brand needed reinventing.
“Hand on heart that was the best job I ever had...and I am not a camper,” says Alison.
The research showed that despite most Australians having fond memories of camping holidays as children, most wouldn’t choose to stay at caravan parks because they wanted more creature comforts.
“We worked with our 180 BIG4 park owners across Australia to develop and deliver services, facilities and activities our guests wanted when staying with us,” says Alison.
“Holidays in BIG4 parks are real and authentic...they are places where kids make new best friends every day, and everyone is welcome.
“Our advertising messaging was around ‘holidays the way they should be’, emotional messages and imagery that reflected how a family holiday at a BIG4 Holiday Park felt.”
Another ‘dream job’ for Alison was leading the marketing, communications and digital teams at Zoos Victoria where she delved into research about how visitors and members felt about and connected with the zoo.
She learned just how invested they were in the zoos and conservation actions.
“It didn’t matter whether you’re eight or 80...the connection you can have with an animal is just magical,” says Alison.
It was that that ‘magical’ connection that formed the centre of advertising campaigns led by Alison and her team to strengthen the connection Victorians had with their zoos.
“Everything we did was done with heart, responsibility, care and respect...to ensure our zoos continue to be loved by visitors as we continued our fight against wildlife extinction,” says Alison.
'Swinburne gave me a seat at any table'
However, it wasn’t until after Alison left BIG4 Holiday Parks she completed her Master of Commerce (Marketing) Swinburne that she truly felt like she had “a seat at any table”.
“Swinburne gave me confidence and the foundation and business tools to reinforce everything I knew from my experience,” says Alison.
“It showed me my skills could be valued by other industries...I loved learning about a broad range of industries and businesses,” she says.
Today, Alison is at the helm of her own marketing business, Roadmap Strategy, which works with businesses spanning the tourism, travel, agriculture, membership industries and beyond.
Her connection with Swinburne also continued. While at Zoos Victoria, Alison worked with Swinburne students on a project to attract more Baby Boomers to their zoos. She also intends to work with another cohort of students in her capacity as non-executive board member for not-for-profit organisation The Otis Foundation, which gifts retreats to people living with the challenges of breast cancer.
Shining a light on local tourism
Alison’s passion for travel and tourism led to opportunities to judge for the Victorian Tourism Awards, Victoria’s Top Tourism Town Awards and this year, the Australian Tourism Awards – experiences that sparked the idea for her very own passion project.
“I saw how the regions supported each other and local business so that the local community, and business prospered,” she says.
Wanting to replicate this regional business support model in her own local area, Alison started Live Love Work Port Phillip with two other local female entrepreneurs.
The aim of the initiative is to shine a light on Port Phillip in Melbourne as a business destination and connect the people who live, work and run businesses there.
"Ideally we are building up a community that will work with each other and for each other,” she says.
Their key campaign is an annual International Women’s Day campaign which Alison says is about “celebrating the heart, soul, smarts and diversity of the women in Port Phillip.”
Each year from February until International Women’s Day in March, they share and celebrate stories of local women on social media.
“We share their journey and their passions as we strive to lift our Port Philip voice to a roar,” says Alison.
In both her personal and professional life, Alison is driven by a love of helping, connecting and celebrating people.
Prioritise relationships and authenticity
“It sounds cliché, but being part of something and working with people that want to make a difference for good is important to me” she says.
Alison recently spoke at a Swinburne graduation ceremony, encouraging graduates to prioritise relationships and authenticity in their careers.
“Work in a relational way to foster relationships, be authentic, give back, and stay true to your values,” she said.
It is those that can connect their hard skills with relational skills that will be the leaders of the future because leadership is about people.”