Oprah impact - how will we know?

Thursday 24 March 2011

Oprah impact - how will we know?


by Mat Churchill

The unprecedented hype of Oprah Winfrey's visit to Australia and subsequent TV specials has subsided, but the Tourism Australia campaigns to entice international travellers, particularly from the US, continue. But how we will know if the millions spent on Oprah's Ultimate Australian Adventure translates into bookings?

Two major campaigns coincided with the screening of the Oprah specials in January, 'The Great Aussie Sale' and 'One Week Walkabout' and according to Tourism Tropical Norht Queensland chief, Rob Giason, there is strong support from large travel wholesalers in the US.

"Packages to maximise travel to our region from Oprah's Ultimate Australian Adventure went on sale in January for travel through until June 2011. Two major campaigns - 'The Great Aussie Sale' and 'One Week Walkabout' leverage the Oprah screenings in the USA.

"All the major travel wholesalers in the USA put packages into the market with “The Great Aussie Sale", and Qantas Vacations launched the "One Week Walkabout" campaign. Both have significant investment from Tourism Australia, Tourism Queensland and industry partners, with 5 night stays in Cairns featured in the Qantas packages."

The question of the ability of tourism bodies to measure the success of campaigns has been hotly debated, and with millions of dollars invested into Oprah's Ultimate Australian Adventure, the nation's tourism industry is waiting expectantly for a spike in bookings.

The International Visitor Survey (IVS), a rolling year on year comparison of visitor numbers, is released by Tourism Research Australia every three months and will play a role in measuring the Oprah campaign success or otherwise.

"It’s not that specific," said Stevie King, Corporate Communication Executive of TTNQ, on whether the IVS asks travellers why they booked their travel.

"It does ask whether or not travel is on a package holiday.  It also ask respondents to tick boxes identifying their holiday experiences e.g. Visiting museums and art galleries, Indigenous culture experiences, visiting wildlife sanctuaries, shopping etc.
"As the packages (Oprah campaign offers) are available January to June 2011 the results will be included the IVS for the year ending March 2011 (released in June) and Year Ending June 2011 (released in September)."

Leo Seaton, Manager of Media Relations for Tourism Australia said research company Repucom has been commissioned to undertake additional research that will help fill the gap in the IVS results.

"Well, ultimately, the success will be measured in the visitor figures which are measured monthly via the Australian Bureau of Statistics. (Repucom will) analyse in more detail the impact of the US Oprah screening . . .it is specifically aimed at identifying whether the Oprah screenings have increased the likelihood of Oprah viewers to visit Australia," Mr Seaton said.

1,200 people were surveyed in early February which resulted in some key findings including:

  • 74% of people were aware of Oprah's adventure and agreed that Australia is ‘worth travelling to’;
  • 61% of of these people had explored Australian travel options in some capacity;
  • 47% of respondents aware of Oprah's adventure stated a likely booking of an Australian vacation in the future;
  • People aware of Oprah's adventures were over 50% more likely to book a vacation than those unaware; and
  • 3% of all those interviewed claim to have already booked a trip to Australia following the Oprah specials.

"We’re not getting carried away since a claim is not necessary an actual booking," Mr Seaton said. "But if you consider that the average US audience for these Australian specials was more than 4 million and 3% claim to have already made a booking, you can start to get an idea of the impact.

"We also conducted an online survey of our Premier Australian Specialists, about the impact of Oprah. This is the top echelon of our Aussie specialist agents. We carried this out between 1 February and 10 February and got responses from 70 of our top Aussie specialists." These results included:

  • 70% saw the Oprah shows live;
  • 86% agreed they did a good job presenting Australia as a tourism destination;
  • 59% agree that shows have already had a positive impact on their business; and
  • 74% have seen an increase in Australian inquiries in Jan 2011 compared with 2010.

"As I said, we’re not getting carried away, these booking are unlikely to flow through into actual visits for a few months, so that’s why we we’re we measure the ABS figures," Mr Seaton said. 

Reporter's comment: Regardless of the industry you're in, accountability and transparency is paramount in finding out what works and what doesn't in order to make improvements for the next time. The Oprah specials and supporting campaigns have no doubt raised the profile of Australia for potential travellers.

However, in my opinion it is imperative that Government funded (and therefore tax payer funded) bodies such as Tourism Australia take measures to find out exactly why a booking has been made and if it has been because of a particular campaign.

Update immigration cards to include current TA campaigns as a reason for travel, have surveyors at departure gates asking people who are jumping on a plane to Australia, and most importantly make the results easily available to the public and the body's members.