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34 Charter I September 2011
Australia's $8.4 billion industry is suffering.
Did the Oprah visit really work or is it
too soon to tell?
Story Natalie Apostolou
When the Icelandic volcano erupted in
April 2010, the fallout was measured
not only in ash but in millions of dollars of
dormant international fight time.
The effect had reverberations across
the other side of the world. In Australia the
eruption served as a prescient warning of the
vulnerability of our tourism industry. Qantas
alone estimated that the decision to ground
fights cost them about $1.5 million a day.
Skip to the frst three months of 2011
and a barrage of unexpected local disasters
temporarily rendered Queensland a no-go
zone for tourism. Throw in the lingering
effects of the GFC, the unstoppable rise of
the Australian dollar and the shadow of the
US debt crisis and we have a situation that
not even the mighty marketing Midas touch
of Oprah can quickly fx.
Australia’s $84.2 billion tourism industry is
suffering. The absenteeism of international
guests is slicing an increasing chunk out of
tourism revenue and Australians are taking
advantage of our strong currency to spend
their recreational dollars in the US and
European markets; essentially holidaying
anywhere other than at home.
NERVOUSNESS IN MARKET
For Felicia Mariani, the managing director
of the Australian Tourism Export Council
(ATEC) there is typically “lots of nervousness”
coming from her industry.
“The Australian tourism industry is built
on thousands of small and medium-sized
businesses who operate on tiny proft
margins and they are already feeling the
impacts of the high dollar and a dwindling
domestic tourism market,” Mariani says.
The government has been plagued by
derision over its attempts to stimulate the
tourism industry in recent years. Overall, it
is estimated by The Australia Institute that
federal and state governments combined
spend about $237 million a year directly on
Its highest profle effort to date – a
$5 million collaboration with Oprah Winfrey’s
media company Harpo Productions –
continues to attract equal measures of
praise and condemnation.
The Tourism Australia-led project, which
saw Oprah, 302 audience members and
numerous crew tour key tourism hotspots,
certainly created an international buzz when
the four Australian shows were screened in
January – but dollars have yet to follow.
According to the Australian Bureau of
Statistics, US arrivals for the frst fve months
of 2011 fell by 0.8 per cent compared with
the same period last year.
Tourism Australia CEO Andrew McEvoy
claims that the market will have to wait 3-7
years to see the full Oprah effect.
“The US is fat at the moment but it’s fat
everywhere. We’re holding our own in a
market that’s in decline,” he says.
The tourism body staunchly defends its
decision claiming that the fow-on effects,
in terms of media coverage and product
placement in addition to reaching a primary
North American audience of 48 million, was a
wise strategic long-term branding investment.
Mariani agrees. “Critics are being unfair.
We had her here in December so it is
extremely short-sighted to expect foods of
Americans here in six months.”
Tourism is not a cause-and-effect
business, she adds. “We don’t sell widgets
or shift product. Long-haul travel and
PhotograPher: Chloe geraghty / ©NewsPix / News ltd
international marketing requires long-term
investment. Everyone knows booking travel
is 9-to-12 month decision for a consumer,”
ONLINE TRAFFIC UP
On the ground, travel operators have yet to
see real sales cut through but have reported
signifcant increases in online traffc following
the screening of the shows. Qantas Vacations
in the US saw a 250 per cent increase in visits
to its website, a 25 per cent increase in phone
calls and a 30-to-40 per cent increase in
quote requests, following the screenings.
Online hotel booking service
Hotels.com however reports that it did
not see an immediate spike in US bookings
for accommodation following Oprah
Winfrey’s visit to Australia.
“But frankly an event like this is more likely
to have a longer term impact,” says Johan
Svanstrom, managing director, Asia Pacifc
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