exclusive Feature Week March 11, 2020

Tom Curtain shares touring lessons from operating a tourism business

Tom Curtain shares touring lessons from operating a tourism business
Tom Curtain / Photo by Stephanie Coombes

Multi-award winning Northern Territory singer-songwriter, horseman and outback tourism entrepreneur Tom Curtain is in strong demand at conferences and functions.

People want to know how his Katherine Outback Experience has been a growing success since it was established seven years ago.

This includes leveraging his point of difference by combining his outback show with his music, and understanding who his audience is. The research includes demographics, their online presence, buying behaviours and interests.

“Once you know this, it becomes a lot clearer how to plan shows and how to spend marketing budget that will have a return on investment,” Curtain tells TMN.

Katherine Outback Experience is an outback show that celebrates life on the land through real horse-starting and working dog demonstrations entwined with live music and bush yarns.

In the NT dry season, from April to end of September, the show is held at his property, 6kms south of Katherine.

It has elevated seating in an indoor arena, where guests can also feed station animals Buffalo Bill and Tin Shaker the Brahman Steer.

Katherine Outback Experience attracts an audience of 15,000 a year.

That grows by an additional 25,000 in the wet season, when Curtain combines the show and his music, touring nationwide including many remote outback towns.

The audience in Katherine, NT is primarily touring groups including The Ghan Train, grey nomads and young families.

They are drawn to the “real” and uniqueness of the outback and watching young wild untrained horses and dogs put through paces as they are readied for working life on cattle stations.

But a growing sector includes corporations and associations – who use the experience both to entertain members and clients and for staff training – as well as music events and festivals, and school groups.

“The show is as much educational as it is entertaining,” explains Curtain who grew up on his parents’ farm in Kingaroy, Queensland and moved to the NT in 2001 working on remote cattle stations, mustering cattle and training 10 to 14 horses a day.

“Each animal has a totally different personality. You identify these by watching all aspects of their body language.

“Once you do, you fast-track the whole process because you’re on their wavelength. It’s a fascinating process, and I’m still learning after 20 years.

“The achievement of teamwork, the understanding of psychology and growth of confidence is why companies bring employees to learn for the workplace.”

The venue is hired out for outdoor functions such as lunches, dinners, cocktail events and overnight camping.

Katherine Outback Experience was again a finalist at the Australian Tourism Awards in Canberra last Friday (March 6).

Future plans are to expand the team, services and break further into live music events.

Other entrepreneurial tips from Curtain:

Be real and authentic – guests love feeling like they are part of your story;

Performing is only a portion of the picture. You need to do interviews (including at 5am), chat with fans after the show, market, network and stay on top of bills and invoices;

He also says to brand or be branded and be reliable.

“Give an audience of five people the same attention you would give an audience of 5,000 people. You never know who is in that audience of 5, they may be your next big sponsor.”

Curtain’s first album Smack Bang, produced by Gath Porter, came out in 2004.

He has since won two Golden Guitars (for ‘Never Never Land’, a duet with Luke O’Shea about the NT) while at the 2018 Southern Stars Country Music Awards, he took out Artist, Male Vocalist, Album (for Territory Time) and Single of the Year.

The title track of current album We’re Still Here is a salute to country people and their resilience in times of adversity including drought, floods and bushfires.

The music video has received over two million views across social media.

Another standout is ‘Speak Up’, about bullying in schools, inspired after 14-year old Amy Dolly Everett took her life.

The song, a duet with Sara Storer, is popular schools nationwide.

Curtain is an official ambassador of Dolly’s Dream and to date has donated over $20,000 to the Foundation from the sale and royalties of ‘Speak Up’.

Each tour he visits some 30 schools to speak with students about bullying, in addition to performing 40 to 50 shows over a four-month period with his team including seven horses and ten working dogs.

This article appears as part of TMN’s Travel Week, exploring key issues, trends and showcasing companies at the intersection of travel and the music industry. To spotlight your business and get involved in future Feature Week editions, get in touch here.

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