The Australian Government, the NSW Government, Qantas and other parties interested in promoting Australian tourism recently paid $43 million to the US daytime talk-show host Oprah Winfrey - one of the world’s richest women - to visit, travel around Australia - along with 303 lucky American studio guests - and film some programmes in this country. After a brief stay, she and her guests flew out last week. The tour has been declared an enormous success.
In pure marketing terms, it is difficult to disagree. According to figures bandied about on the ABC’s 7.30 Report on Tuesday, the publicity generated by Winfrey’s tour has already made the tourism industry many times the initial investment.
Moreover, the subsequent publicity generated by Winfrey’s 180 million person worldwide television audience is likely to provide excellent exposure for Australian locations when her programmes are screened. Tempering optimism about the potential benefit must be the relative weakness of the US currency and economy and the presumably low average incomes of the typical US daytime television demographic - the unemployed or otherwise unwaged - which may mean that the any US tourism surge is lower than perhaps projected.
In any case, the initiative seems sure to be a marketing success story.
But beyond the Government outlay, what has it cost us?
Well, some may say, perhaps a degree of frustration with the media because, despite the crowds and the attention, the vast majority of Australians are probably not besotted with Oprah Winfrey. Every minute of her tour was broadcast and reported with same sort of breathless media coverage you might anticipate for a moon landing, or perhaps man’s first sighting of alien life, but most certainly not for a visit from a foreign celebrity - a mere talk-show host.
More disturbing than the Australian media’s predictably over-the-top reaction was our Prime Minister’s performance with respect to Winfrey.
Despite Julian Assange having just been locked up in a London gaol and Wikileaks publishing diplomatic cables that day featuring her and other members of the Australian Government, Julia Gillard still found time to meet the American celebrity almost as soon as she arrived in the country.
A casual observer would have thought Gillard was hosting an important world leader.
A world leader, indeed, of far higher status than the Australian Prime Minister herself, it seemed by the way Gillard fawned and doted on her. Although, Gillard also snuggled up to Bono from U2 a day or two before, so perhaps all this was merely an indication of how desperate our beleaguered PM was to have someone else’s popularity rub off on her. Still, pretty demeaning for the country - making us look like we are such small beer that our PM drops everything to meet visiting US talk show hosts and Irish rock stars at Airport arrivals like a starstruck groupie.
Why have they all gone gaga over Oprah Winfrey?
Have they been talking to Kitty Kelley, the American unauthorised biographer of Winfrey, who on the 7.30 Report this week made the fantastic statement that Winfrey was in fact more powerful than the US President? Nonsense! Winfrey is powerful, yes, but only as powerful as a popular US daytime television talk-show host could be - she is not a world leader.
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