Will Oprah Help Australia?

Photo credit RubyGoes


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.

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

8 Responses

  1. Caroline in the City

    I’m going to Oz in January, so I’m just barely going to miss all the hooplah! Bummer, but I’m sure I can find some souvenir of “Oprah Oz Visit 2011.” It’s funny that she’s going and Obama announced he couldn’t go to Australia on his SE Asia tour this year. Maybe we did elect her after all.

  2. Annie Bettis

    I wish I was in that audience! I hope for Oz’s sake that it boosts the travel economy because it’s an amazing country with so much to offer! I can’t wait to get there, hopefully within a year 🙂

  3. Ant Stone

    I think a lot depends on the way Oprah portrays Australia. If she takes the angle of “Oh, look, Melbourne’s a great place for shopping…” then, no, I don’t think people will be that amazed.

    But if she takes her 300 audience members (who I presume are mostly female?) to the Outback, and shows them some of the wondrous and utterly unique aspects of the country then she could do them a real favour.

    Let’s not forget, on face value the USA and Australia are very similar as destinations: large expanses of beautiful landscape, a persecuted indigenous population, arrow straight roads through the desert, amazing coastlines, unique flora and fauna, etc.

    It would need to be something truly thought-provoking, or absolutely unique to attract the average American family half way around the world.

    Australia has it, but will Oprah let the world see it?

  4. Caitlin @ Roaming Tales

    Exchange rates are a major factor – the Australian dollar hit parity with the US dollar this week. It’s usually around 70-80c and in 2000 it was as low as 50c.

    Why do people persist in thinking that Australia is “really far away”. It’s not! Or at least it depends on where in the US you are coming from. It’s a 13 hour direct flight from LA or 14 hours from SF. Considering it takes 10-11 hours to get to Europe from the West Coast, I don’t think that’s a significant difference. (Europe is also even more expensive).

    I think another factor is that Australia is the size of the US so it’s impossible to do it all in a two-week vacation. I think people have this notion that they need to pack it all into one trip – and maybe tick off NZ at the same time – and therefore it never happens since most people don’t have that much vacation or cash. But if you let go of the idea of it being “really far away” and you know it’s okay to go see one or two places and save the rest for another trip, then it becomes much more manageable.

    Tourism Australia should have different campaigns for the US East and West Coast. The West Coast one should be “Australia: It’s closer than you think!”

    • Matt Long

      Ha! Love the idea for the West Coast campaign. I should’ve mentioned my perspective, which is living on the East Coast. For me, it’s about 20 hours or so of travel time. While possible, and I’ve gone that far before, it is hard for a lot of families. Compare that with Europe which is a 6 hour flight or so.

  5. Michela @Australia Travel Guide

    Although Australia ranks no. 1 among the most desired travel destinations, it is not the most visited country and there are a few reasons for it. The major one is distances to get there and distances within the country followed by lack of time ! You definitely cannot see much of Australia in 2-3 weeks and upon my personal experience you should have at least 4 weeks for the first trip to Australia ! It does not make much sense to me to fly over for a couple of weeks, but everyone is different and there are people who fly over Christmas for a great barrier reef experience ! There are different ways of approaching and exploring the country, and Australia definitely does not have to be expensive ! There are ways and tricks for saving money on your vacation. As Matt said a huge number of people is getting information online and additionally make theri bookings online ! Getting free travel information is also a great way to save money if you love travel cheaply and foremost independently !

  6. Simon McManus

    You might find it interesting that Tourism New Zealand has just announced major refocus of marketing efforts now shifting focus to a group they’ve labelled “Active Considerers” – those who are ready to commit to long haul travel. Ahead of Australia again?

    Well, Peter Jackson’s (2 part) Hobbit has just been confirmed for filming in NZ, so take your Oprah and….

    • Matt Long

      LOL, that is interesting though. Very smart to make this change, which can only be aided through the use of social media. New media tools really are amazing in that they provide brands with the opportunity to focus very specifically on key audiences.

      Mr. Jackson has been good for you all, no doubt.


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