Monday 20 November 2017

No expense spared in Australian tourism's quest for Oprah effect

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey

Robert Fenner

Australia is spending more than A$3 million (€2.1m) to bring billionaire talk-show host Oprah Winfrey to Sydney for the first time and stage her show in December for broadcast to US audiences, tourism minister Martin Ferguson said.

While Winfrey is the city's latest weapon in the battle to lure back visitors put off by the record-high Australian dollar, travel agents and advertising professionals say the money would be better spent attracting the Chinese. A dearth of Mandarin-speaking guides at icons like the Sydney Opera House, one of Winfrey's show venues, is forcing tour companies to recruit staff from China, according to the Australian Tourism Export Council, the nation's top body for the industry.

"Getting Oprah here isn't going to get anyone from China to come here," said Peter Grasse, executive producer in Sydney at Curious Film, which worked on advertising campaigns that won the Grand Prix at a Cannes media festival in June. "They should be making multiple ads for multiple markets, like the Chinese market, instead of putting all this effort into something so one dimensional."

Australia's staging of the 'Oprah Winfrey Show' is the latest government effort to reverse a decline in its A$12.1bn tourism industry, the country's fifth-biggest export earner. The government has run four campaign slogans in the past five years while the currency has risen to its highest level since the end of exchange controls in 1983.

Tourism Australia, the government body that markets the nation overseas, is spending A$1.5m to bring Winfrey. New South Wales state, where Sydney is located, is contributing as much as A$2m. Sydney-based Qantas Airways will fly Winfrey and her 300-strong studio audience from the US.

All are seeking to benefit from the so-called Oprah effect, where endorsements from the most-watched US talk show host has turned books, cakes and beauty products into bestsellers. Her endorsement of Barack Obama when he was a senator is credited with helping him become US president.

"Oprah coming is good, but won't do anything to encourage the Chinese," said Mark Ritson, associate professor of marketing at the University of Melbourne who works with companies such as Adidas and PepsiCo. "We're not doing enough thinking about China and now is the time to get stuck in there with so much growth to offer."

Inbound visitor numbers to Australia are 4.5pc below their peak in July 2008 as the government shifted campaign strategies, including a slogan that pleaded with potential visitors: "Where the bloody hell are you?" according to Ritson. The current slogan is: "There's Nothing Like Australia."

China last year overtook Japan as the fourth-largest source of tourists for Australia behind New Zealand, the UK and the US.

Irish Independent

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