Oprah Stars in Australia's $3 Million Drive for U.S. Tourists

Billionaire talk-show host Oprah Winfrey brings her daytime program to the Sydney Opera House this week as part of a promotion Tourism Australia hopes will reverse a decline in U.S. visitors.

Winfrey’s taping of two shows on Dec. 14 is part of an eight-day trip to Australia that will feature in the 25th and final season of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Australia is spending A$3 million ($3 million) on the project to boost tourism. With the Australian dollar up almost 10 percent this year, the number of U.S. visitors fell 16 percent in October from a year earlier.

“$3 million, is that all?” Ross Sotiropoulos, a 62-year- old Sydney resident, said yesterday as he stood outside the iconic Opera House on the edge of Sydney Harbor. “Americans hardly know Australia. They think kangaroos are jumping all over the main streets, so I think this will be a big boost.”

Australia’s staging of the Oprah Winfrey Show is the latest effort to stop a slide in the country’s A$12.1 billion tourism industry, the fifth-largest export earner. The government has run four campaign slogans in five years while the currency has risen to its highest since the end of exchange controls in 1983.

“Americans have always considered us highly for a visit, but the one thing that has stopped them is the prospect of a long journey,” according to Larry Dwyer, a marketing professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. “Oprah, being an opinion leader, can help change that.”

‘Oprah Effect’

Tourism Australia, the government body that markets the nation overseas, is spending A$1.5 million on the visit. New South Wales state is contributing as much as A$2 million. Qantas Airways Ltd. flew Oprah’s audience to Australia.

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

The return to the Australian economy could be more than 100 times the cost of bringing Winfrey and her audience to Australia, adding more than A$300 million to tourism revenue over the next three years, according to Brand Finance Plc, a London-based consultancy that values brands.

“Oprah’s visit to Australia will add immense value to the Australian brand,” Tim Heberden, managing director of Brand Finance Australia, said in an e-mailed statement. “Advertisers paid A$2.6 million for a 30-second spot during the 2010 Super Bowl, a sporting event watched by over 100 million people. This audience number is similar to Oprah’s global viewership.”

Hype Builds

Winfrey’s private jet touched down last week in the northeastern coastal city of Cairns before refueling on its way to Hamilton Island and the Great Barrier Reef.

Initial sightings showed her patting a koala and visiting Uluru, the outback monolith also known as Ayers Rock. An illuminated “O” has been hung on the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

On Dec. 10, Winfrey met with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city.

“I’ve never seen a welcome like this in my life,” Oprah said, addressing cheering fans. “When we looked around the world, our greatest fan base was right here in Australia. So I say, let’s go to the people who support you.”

A further two shows will be produced using the footage from the trip, according to spokeswoman Karen Eck, founder of Sydney- based public relations company eckfactor.

Tourism Push

Even before her arrival, local television stations and newspapers were awash with reports anticipating the visit. Newscasts led with pictures of Oprah’s audience members arriving in Sydney. Australia’s Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson is issuing daily updates of their activities.

“It’s taken over the airwaves,” said Tony Ward, a 67- year-old visitor from Manchester, England. “They claim it’s generating huge amounts of tourist dollars. I’m skeptical.”

Tourism Australia said earlier this month that the value of the coverage has been worth more than A$17 million, with more than 12,000 stories written and broadcast in Australia alone.

The conclusion of the trip is the Sydney Opera House, the Unesco World Heritage Site conceived by Danish architect Jorn Utzon. The venue will be closed to everyone except production crew, media and ticket holders.

In addition to restricting access to the Opera House precinct that juts into the harbor, police are closing two streets and tightening parking restrictions to cope with congestion, the New South Wales Roads & Traffic Authority said.

T-Shirts

On the day of taping, authorities will suspend tours of the area and restrict access to the building. The evening’s performance of “The Nutcracker” will go ahead.

One shop in the neighborhood sought to cash in on the talk show host’s visit with “I love Oprah” T-shirts selling for A$29.99 apiece. “We’ve sold hundreds,” said Nasrin Balayan, assistant manager at Australian Collection. “We’re excited.”

“Oprah is a household name, not just in the United States but in the 145 countries where the show is broadcast,” Ferguson said in a news release last week. “That Oprah has chosen Australia as her Ultimate Adventure destination sends a powerful message to her millions of fans around the world.”

The Oprah Winfrey Show has been the top-rated U.S. talk show for 23 consecutive seasons and is syndicated to 215 U.S. television stations and 145 other countries, its website says.

“It’s a bit over the top,” University of New South Wales’ Dwyer said. “She seems like a nice woman for a multimillionaire but treating her like the Pope or the Queen might be a bit much.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Robert Fenner in Melbourne rfenner@bloomberg.net; James Paton in Sydney jpaton4@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Tighe at ptighe@bloomberg.net.

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