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''Oprah effect'' fails to revived Australia's flagging tourism

Australia: "Oprah effect" winds up to be "phantom of the Oprah"

Jul 17, 2011

Oprah Winfrey's imprimatur has launched careers, spawned business empires and raised millions of dollars for charity, but the ''Oprah effect'' has not revived Australia's flagging tourism industry in the US.

The number of visiting Americans continues to fall, despite claims from Tourism Australia that the talk show star's tour last year was worth $360 million in global publicity. The Sunday Age can also reveal that Tourism Australia's chief, Andrew McEvoy, gave a reporter incorrect US arrival figures for May, which he claimed was the first sign of the campaign's success.

Industry experts are questioning the $5 million taxpayer-funded tour, with some saying the money should have been spent on the booming Chinese market.

US arrivals for the first five months of 2011 fell by 0.8 per cent, compared with the same period last year, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The dip was even more pronounced in Britain and Canada, where Winfrey's Ultimate Australian Adventure also aired in January.

Canadian arrivals from January to May 2011 fell by 5.1 per cent year on year, while British arrivals dropped by 4.6 per cent.

Mr McEvoy was contradicted by bureau figures for May, which revealed US arrivals had fallen by 2.1 per cent. He had told The Australian newspaper that the number of American travellers had jumped by 4 per cent in May.

''Visitor numbers for May are up about 4 per cent out of the US and that's really the first indication,'' he said. The Winfrey impact ''comes from now'', he said.

A spokesman for Mr McEvoy blamed the error on a ''slip of the tongue'', but later said the reporter could have mistakenly used US arrival figures from April.

''I tried to discourage her from making too much of one month of arrivals figures,'' said Tourism Australia media manager Leo Seaton. ''But she led with it, and made it sound as if Andrew was talking it all up, which he wasn't.''

Tourism Victoria distanced itself from the strategy, saying the decision to finance it was made by the former state government. Several other state-based tourism groups are seething about the attention given to NSW and Queensland by Winfrey and her entourage of 300 guests.

Western Australia is believed to have hosted two of Winfrey's ''ultimate fans''. South Australia and Tasmania received 16 and six respectively.

''It reinforced the old stereotype of tropical beaches, koalas and the Harbour Bridge,'' said one state tourism executive, who asked not to be named. ''Isn't it time we came up with something a bit more sophisticated?'' Mr McEvoy told The Sunday Age he was confident Winfrey's global reach would deliver long-term returns for Australia, but said the impact had been delayed by the still ailing US economy.

''As we've said all along, the 'Oprah effect' was never going to be an instant phenomenon, and we believe the full impact will be seen over many years to come,'' he said.

But Tourism Australia's assessment was far more upbeat during Winfrey's trip and in the aftermath of the four-part series that screened in 145 countries earlier this year. Mr McEvoy said in March: ''This has hit the right spot … We haven't opened the champagne - I have looked at the bottle and maybe in the next few months we'll crack it.''

Tony Charters, convener of the Tourism and Events Excellence Conference to be held in Melbourne in September, said the industry needed a ''comprehensive reboot''.

''While the US and Europe will always be important, we need to fundamentally change the way we approach markets in China and south-east Asia,'' he said.

Winfrey's Harpo Productions did not respond to questions.

Australia: "Oprah effect" winds up to be "phantom of the Oprah"
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