5 star ride share: underwater taxi shows off the life in the Great Barrier Reef

Tourism and Events Queensland won an award with its ‘ScUber’ campaign - a submarine ride-share service created to advocate for the beleaguered Great Barrier Reef. This was a winning entry in the the Travel and Tourism category at The Drum Awards for Marketing in 2020.

The challenge

A Unesco World Heritage site, the Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest coral reef, one of Australia’s most valuable natural assets and a unique collection of biodiversity.

The GBR Marine Park stretches along approximately 2,300km of the 6,973km Queensland coast. For decades, its status as one of the seven natural wonders of the world has led the Queensland tourism industry to proudly protect and advocate for it.

The Reef also supports 64,000 full-time jobs and contributes over 6.4 bn dollars to the Australian economy each year. Tourists visiting the reef support it by paying an environmental management fee, helping to monitor and improve the resilience of the GBR.

Visitor numbers to the Marine Park have demonstrated steady growth, with 2016-2017 the highest on record. The impact of back-to-back coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, and Tropical Cyclone Debbie in 2017, led to a strong focus on crisis communications by Tourism and Events Queensland (TEQ) and stakeholders throughout 2017-18. In 2018, there were only 2.27 million visitors to the marine park, a decline of 1.9%.

International media began reporting that the Reef was dead, causing tourists' perceptions to shift significantly. Research showed consumer sentiment was negatively impacted, particularly consumers from TEQ’s key Western markets. No longer did they see the Reef as an abundant underwater world and bucket-list travel destination. Instead, they believed it was devoid of life and not worth the trip.

Misconceptions about the health of the Reef drove down visitation, primarily that from key Western markets including USA, Canada, UK, France, New Zealand and Australia. TEQ needed to find a way of connecting consumers and media with the GBR to help them see the Reef like never before.

The brief was two-fold: shift media and consumer sentiment by resetting the conversation about the health of the Reef, and drive awareness, engagement and action among travellers from the key Western markets.

The strategy

In line with TEQ’s business objectives, the objectives of the integrated campaign were to:

• Educate and drive awareness of the Reef’s abundant marine life with a target reach of 100m opportunities to see the campaign

• Dispel misperceptions and drive advocacy for the Reef among tier one media outlets globally, with a focus on news and consumer titles

• Uplift perception of the GBR among the high value travellers in key Western markets

• Create an ROI of $40m in ASR value from earned media alone

• Deliver an extra 1.1 million visitors and $1.5 bn in visitor expenditure to the region over the next three years, supporting 15,700 jobs

• Reset conversations and shift sentiment about the Reef on key social channels

TEQ knew from consumer insight that personal experience of the Reef was key to engage consumers to understand, appreciate and advocate.

The idea was to develop the world’s first bookable rideshare submarine. From the window of an electric submarine with a 260° view, TEQ could provide the world with an unfiltered view of the colourful beauty of the Reef, proving it remains very much alive.

TEQ developed a partnership with Uber that would deliver newsworthiness and scale, and introduced scUber - a world-first form of travel. ScUber helped TEQ inspire pride in the Reef by connecting audiences directly with the national treasure.

For Uber, this never-before-seen experience provided a platform to promote its local sustainability efforts and new partnership with Citizens of The Reef, plus the opportunity to launch a world-first initiative, leveraging its innovative transport and technology credentials.

More than just a vehicle to experience the Reef, scUber also doubled as a research vessel.

The campaign

The campaign had two phases, Launch and Sustain. The activation of the former took place on Heron Island, Queensland on 23 May 2019. TEQ hosted top tier global media at the launch event, incorporating a panel session with esteemed Reef experts to address the myths surrounding the state of the GBR. More than 50 media representatives experienced scUber and witnessed the health of the Reef first-hand, helping to turn sceptics into advocates.

The second phase began with a global competition to award six winners the opportunity to experience scUber on Agincourt Reef, supported by an international earned media and content drive.

While scUber was born from a simple, creative idea, the execution of the campaign was complex. With strategic thinking, the team overcame the following challenges:

  • Changing weather conditions which resulted in major amends to the media programme on scUber

  • The remote location of Heron Island, with rudimentary telecommunications and broadband services, hosting 40 journalists and six broadcast crews

  • Streamlining communications with stakeholders in six global markets

  • A tight timeframe - 12 weeks from sign off to launch

  • Visa issues for the international media in attendance

  • Implementing the bookable rideshare submarine

The results

TEQ’s scUber campaign became its most successful campaign to date, a record held for ten years by their Best Job in The World campaign. Over a period of two months, the campaign generated 4,694 pieces of coverage, a reach of over 4bn, over $131mn ASR value, 52,524 competition entries globally over a two-week period, 59% opt-in rate of competition entrants to the Queensland database, 796,908 website sessions over an eight-week period, and 88,893 leads to industry.

All scUber rides got a 5-star rating, and key distribution partner Flight Centre reported a 22% uplift in Queensland room bookings over May and June.


“Having ScUber launch on Heron Island resulted immediately in obvious spikes in visits and revenue through our website… Our small team is struggling to keep up with the new business enquiries since the ScUber phenomenon from dive wholesalers and groups as a direct result of the ScUber activity showcasing the incredibly diverse marine life thriving on the Great Barrier Reef." - Karen Sweeney, sales manager, Heron Island

This project was a winner at The Drum Awards for Marketing in 2020. To find out more about The Drum Awards, including which awards are currently open for entries, click here.