Predictably, some are outraged with the Federal and New South Wales Governments for contributing $3 million to the cost of Oprah Winfrey and her 400-strong entourage travelling to our shores.
Though there is little doubt there was a carefully negotiated business deal with Oprah’s Harpo Productions, there is nothing shady about our governments’ conduct. What the naysayers fail to see is a sound investment with surer returns for our tourism sector and wider economy than any $3 million advertising campaign could hope to achieve.
Love her or hate her, Oprah’s visit Down Under will be a boon for our economy. It is a truism of marketing that personal recommendations are worth far more than paid advertisements. Oprah has the necessarily intimate relationship with millions of women (and men) for her words to work almost as command. She is your best friend on the box willing to sit on the couch, share her history, hardships and listen to yours in return.
Many will say that the fuss and hype over Oprah’s Aussie tour is the product of a media obsessed with celebrity and the trivial. What’s more, they will add, as Oprah’s pre-visit TV special demonstrated, her attention on Australia is going to reinforce the Crocodile Dundee “put another shrimp on the barbie” self portrait that makes most of us cringe if not angry.
Does it really matter, though, if it is a dumbed-down picture of our country that delivers massive tourist dollars? Would we prefer that people had no particular vision of Australia and took their business elsewhere?
We live in a post-9/11 world where many Americans want to feel safe and at ease when they travel. The familiar is comfortable. All the more reason to parade our Hollywood stars next week at the “Oprah House” and light a big “O” on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Even if the overwhelming majority of Winfrey’s 40-million-strong American audience are choosing to holiday at home because of the recession, Oprah can be found on a television set literally anywhere on planet that hasn’t outlawed her program.
However, there are limits to what our landmark people and places can do for us. Two very recent public events have highlighted this for us.
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