Twelve months on Oprah still lingers
TWELVE months ago US talkshow queen Oprah Winfrey brought 200 of her “best friends” to Australia for a grand finale of unprecedented proportions - including a trip to the Daintree for a lucky few - but did it work for our tourism industry?
While the move generated untold exposure around the world, the strong Australian dollar and natural disasters including cyclones and floods in Queensland have been big deterrents for overseas visitors this year.
When you take this into account, the figures for tourism may have been much worse if the world’s most powerful woman had never set foot on Aussie soil.
During the year ended September 30 - the most recent figures available - there were around 5.4 million visitors to Australia aged 15 years and over, a 1 per cent increase on the same time the previous year.
The percentage of visitors from the United States, however, has fallen about 4 per cent.
But research conducted by TNS Market Research showed out of all US visitors who came to Australia in the six months to November, 59 per cent agreed the Oprah show made them visit places outside the main cities they had not previously considered.
Around 64 per cent found themselves prepared to spend more time during their trip than they originally thought they would.
Colin Hughes, who is managing director of one of Australia’s largest inbound operators, ATS Pacific, said the United States has faced its own challenges over the past year.
“Everything that’s happened in the US has not really allowed the Oprah impact to have the effect it will have because the poor buggers are still trying to claw their way back from the precipice,” he said.
While Mr Hughes said many people thought thousands of Americans would be flocking to our shores within days of Oprah setting foot on Aussie soil, the reality is far different.
Americans are planners, they still consider Australia to be very far away and most only get one or two weeks annual leave a year.
He believes the results will filter through over three to four years.
“It’s probably a bit early to say Oprah worked or didn’t work,” he said.
"It will be at least 12 months before we see an impact.
"They’re not going to make up their minds instantly... they’re kind of keeping their money in their pockets at the moment because of the economy.
Mr Hughes said Americans may also have been put off travelling to Australia after seeing footage of floods in isolated parts of Queensland, incorrectly believing the whole country was damaged.
During her trip in December, Oprah visited the Great Barrier Reef, took a flight over the Australian Outback, visited Federation Square in Melbourne and walked on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and a handful of her audience members visited the Daintree, which was heavily promoted on the talkshow queen’s website. The early signs were good. A major travel company working with Tourism Australia said inquiries had been up 75 per cent on last year because of the extra publicity before the first of Oprah’s four shows featuring Australia even aired.
Social networking websites were also abuzz with viewers quickly declaring their plans to visit Australia.
Tourism Australia embarked on a major marketing blitz in the US and other marketing activities in other key markets where Oprah’s show is broadcast, including the UK, New Zealand and Canada.
Tourism Australia managing director Andrew Mcevoy said while much of the focus is on the US, it’s important to remember the show aired in 144 other countries.
“Four episodes showed in India in September and October,’” he said.
Mr Mcevoy said the numbers for Americans visiting other countries were down a lot more than they were when it came to visiting Australia.
“You could argue that Australia has held its own in one of the most difficult outbound markets in the world,” he said.
In the meantime, Oprah’s legacy continues.
Tourism Australia’s Facebook fan page was dramatically boosted following her visit.
It is already the largest destination Facebook fan page on the planet and will soon pass two million fans.
In the future, Tourism Australia is planning more marketing campaigns around the Indian cricket tour, British and Irish Lions rugby and The Ashes.
Since Oprah, the organisation has brought out other big names from emerging markets who are not as wellknown in Australia as Oprah and don’t generate as much publicity.
How much can a koala bear: Oprah in Australia last year