Arts, Culture & Media

Australia hoping for Oprah effect

Oprah Winfrey is filming some of the last episodes of her TV show in Sydney, Australia. And the Australian government is hoping Oprah will provide a much-needed boost to the country's sagging tourism industry. Phil Mercer reports from Sydney.

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�I cannot tell you how excited we are to be able to come down under, really, just to see the sights and hear the sounds, taste the wine, experience everything that your country has to offer.�

Oprah Winfrey's delight is nothing compared to that of some of the loyal fans who will accompany her to Australia.

Australia's parliament is pretty delighted too. Martin Ferguson, Tourism Minister, says Oprah's visit �would represent the ultimate adventure. That is exceptionally important because Oprah has been named by Forbes Magazine as the most important celebrity in the world. That represents a major endorsement of the Australian tourism industry.�

Winfrey isn't funding the entire trip. The Australian government is kicking in about $1.5 million . That's not going down so well with some people here. But Andrew McEvoy says it'll be worth the public expense. He's managing director of Tourism Australia, the government's official marketing agency.

McEvoy says, �People travel because a friend or relative or someone that you look up to recommends the destination, so Oprah Winfrey one of the most influential people on earth I think is a great way to accentuate what is different and interesting about our country from someone that a lot of people take their cues from. Oprah Winfrey has a high leverage with 25 to 54-year old women, and 25 to 54-year old women make a lot of travel decisions. So, when we were trying to demonstrate �There is Nothing Like Australia' we thought the Oprah Winfrey was a great, high-impact way to do that.�

The last decade has been a tough one for Australia's tourism sector. The soaring Australian dollar has made an Australian holiday far less attractive for tourists in the key markets of the United States and Britain. So Australia's been trying to woo asian visitors.

But industry analyst Tony Charters says a few other things have worked against them. He says, �The tourism industry right through the early 2000s just became a bit punch-drunk from the impacts of SARS and avian flu, and obviously September 11, the Bali bombings. At that point we thought, you know, things can't get any worse but the reality is what the industry is dealing with now is actually worse than what we were dealing with back in those early years of 2000s�.

That's way tourism officials are pinning their hopes on Oprah's visit. David Beirman of the University of Technology Sydney, says Whoever came up with that in Tourism Australia deserves a medal or an Order of Australia!

Oprah is due to arrive in Australia in early December.

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