The media giant Oprah Winfrey recently surprised her audience when she announced that all 300 of them would join her for a trip to Australia, where Winfrey will tape at least two shows. While in keeping with previous mega-Oprah gifts (you’ve won a new car!), the entire campaign is actually being paid for and sponsored by Australian Tourism, with the states ultimately picking up the tab. But will it help?
The number of American tourists visiting Australia has, not surprisingly, lagged lately, due in large part to the global recession. A strengthening Australian dollar can’t help either, nor can the fact that Australia is just really far away. Tourism is Australia’s fifth largest segment of its economy, yet recent campaigns have seemed to miss the mark.
My favorite (and in favorite, I mean favorite to ridicule) Australian Tourism campaign was its “Where the Bloody Hell Are You?” advert. Nothing gets tourists motivated to travel more so than swearing at them I find. Even with the swearing, US tourism has still lagged. The reasons, as I have noted, are easy to identify, but what is the solution to bringing Americans back to the Outback? Is there one?
The Oprah effect is well known. If you write a book, the fastest way to become a multi-gazillionaire is to get an Oprah booking. The same has pretty much held true for everything else, from cookies to Presidents. But will the Oprah effect hold up when it comes to visiting Australia? I’m dubious.
Yes, most of America watches Oprah and yes, her words have a huge impact. BUT, planning a trip to Australia isn’t like buying a book at Borders, it’s a major undertaking, particularly for most of the people who watch Oprah. Oh, I have no doubt just about everyone who watches will WANT to go, but that doesn’t mean they will. I find it hard to believe, particularly in these economic times (I hate that term, but it’s useful) a middle-class, family of four will pay thousands of dollars to fly 20 hours where they will again have to spend thousands to spend a few weeks in Australia.
Don’t get me wrong, do I think they should? Absolutely! While I haven’t had the opportunity to visit, it is on our ‘short list’ and based on everything I have heard and read, I have no doubt that it is a fantastic vacation option. I’m just not sure if the Oprah audience will be able to jump the hurdles necessary in order to make this trip a reality. Luckily, not TOO many have to convert in order to make the campaign a success.
According to recent reports, various tourism authorities within Australia are spending a bit more than $3 million for the Oprah experiment which, while a lot of money, isn’t THAT much for a country to spend. Only a small fraction of the Oprah audience has to visit in order to make the investment a practical success. What is more important though is the massive public relations boost this WILL give Australia. The appearances on Oprah will bring everything Aussie back into the American consciousness and once again propel visiting Australia into a reasonable trip, rather than a “trip of a lifetime.” (I hate that term also)
So, from a PR perspective, this is assuredly a home run. But, I would also encourage Australia to devote some resources to those who are actively engaged in the travel planning process. It is one thing to make someone who has no travel plans to visit Australia, it’s another thing entirely to influence someone who is ready to make a major vacation decision.
As the role of social media continues to grow, it is obvious to me that this is the area where all tourism organizations will have to spend much more of their time and resources. Recent studies say that 94% of everyone planning a trip gets information online. Add to that the fact that Wired magazine earlier this year pronounced that searching the web is dead and social media and “pushed” information (read, apps) the new trend and we have an obvious area where tourism boards need to be spending almost all of their time.
And, to a large degree, they are. The presence of these organizations, and their representatives, in the blogosphere, Twitter, Facebook, etc. has been pretty good, with some doing a better job than others. Slowly, but surely, they are beginning to realize that these media are indeed media and not playthings for teenagers. They are beginning to realize that social media influencers are just as important, if not more important, than an ad buy or product placement.
Regardless, I wish Australia and Oprah all the best; I am sure it will be an amazing trip and make for some brilliant TV. (who wants to lay odds on how fast the first ‘Oprah Holding a Koala’ picture surfaces?) But, I daresay, these lavish, TV centric campaigns won’t be common in the travel industry moving forward and in their place will emerge much more personalized, and effective, travel efforts.