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Cheers - AE

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A very expensive night at the Oprah

It's a recurring theme among many libertarians and free market types that governments are pretty crap at picking winners, so bad in fact that it would be much better if things that required them even to try were not government functions in the first place. It's been a recurring theme with me that in particular governments should stop trying their hand (with our money) at events promotion, starting two years ago with a rant about Formula 1 which touched on the increasing cost to the Victorian taxpayer of the Melbourne Grand Prix and soon expanding to include the $1.5 million the state government paid the pre-shamed-by-affairs Tiger Woods to swing his stick around on a gold course* as well as the eye-watering sum spent on the London Olympics and good result for Britain and Australia in losing the bid to host the soccer World Cup.

And to that we can also add that it's not a government function to dream up gimmicks to promote tourism, especially if it involves giving five million dollars of taxpayers' money to an extremely wealthy American chat show host to come to Australia with her own audience and say nice things about the place.

OPRAH Winfrey's imprimatur has launched careers, spawned business empires and raised millions of dollars for charity, but the ''Oprah effect'' has not revived Australia's flagging tourism industry in the US.
The number of visiting Americans continues to fall, despite claims from Tourism Australia that the talk show star's tour last year was worth $360 million in global publicity. The Sunday Age can also reveal that Tourism Australia's chief, Andrew McEvoy, gave a reporter incorrect US arrival figures for May, which he claimed was the first sign of the campaign's success.
Industry experts are questioning the $5 million taxpayer-funded tour, with some saying the money should have been spent on the booming Chinese market.
As I've pointed out before - on Tiger Woods, I think - even if the government is absolutely sure that this kind of thing will recoup, it still shouldn't be spending the money. I mean, if a treasury minister happens to be the best poker player in the country would you want him to be allowed a million or so of tax money to take to the casino even if he's come back with more than he went every time? No, of course you wouldn't - it's not his money. But in fact the decision to get Oprah Winfrey over was even worse because of what we got in return for it, the alleged $360 million in publicity. Even assuming that figure hasn't simply been pulled out of someone's arse I can't help but think of that old saying about advertising.

Half of everybody's advertising budget is a complete waste of money,
and unfortunately it's impossible to find out which half.

And depending on exactly what you spend it on I think it's possible to ensure that much more than half is wasted. In fact if you put your mind to it I reckon you could waste every cent of a marketing budget or conceive of a campaign that ended up costing far more than the extra business it generated, like Hoover's free flights promo in the 90s for instance. And how did this bargain of $360m worth for $5m work out for us?
US arrivals for the first five months of 2011 fell by 0.8 per cent, compared with the same period last year, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The dip was even more pronounced in Britain and Canada, where Winfrey's Ultimate Australian Adventure also aired in January.
Oh, great. So since the big idea was to get more loaded tourists, particularly Americans, visiting Australia and now we see that numbers are actually down what would be the real value of that $360 million? More or less the $5 million we spent, you reckon? Yeah, me too.
[Tourism Australia's Andrew McEvoy] told The Sunday Age he was confident Winfrey's global reach would deliver long-term returns for Australia, but said the impact had been delayed by the still ailing US economy.
No. Shit. Sherlock. Look, two years before Oprah Winfrey's visit one US dollar bought about AU$1.50, but it began to fall around Easter 09 until by December that year, 12 months before the Oprah visit, it was only worth AU$1.10 or so. And it bounced around that value, a few cents more a couple less, throughout 2010, which is presumably when this idea was hatched and planned. The day she arrived it was near as dammit at parity, and I'd guess that after fees an American tourist could probably have expected less than one Australian dollar for every one of their own they handed over. It's not got any better since - worse in fact since we passed parity months ago and as I type this the once mighty greenback is only worth 93¢. It's a similar story with the pound, one of which was worth $2.20 here two years earlier was $1.58 on December 7th and only $1.50 now. Canadian dollar? Euro? Same same but different. Oprah may have a vast army of fans but she was never going to change the harsh economic reality that to tourists everything here is considerably more expensive than it was a couple of years back, on top of which we will always be a long way from nearly everywhere.

As a not-dinkum Aussie I can be objective about this point. Much as I think Australia is a great place it does take ages to get here and at the moment it's fucking expensive. But to the kind of brains trusts that can come up with one clever idea, which is to get lots of other people to pay for all the bad ideas they're going to have, that doesn't matter. The magical effect of celebrity will miraculously cloud judgement and make people forget that a two week trip here means having to start by spending three days getting over the jetlag before you can start to enjoy your holiday. Well, yeah, some people can be a bit daft when it comes to celebs, but one thing the magical effect of celebrity will not achieve is to make everybody's pockets deeper, you idiots!

Fortunately the state governments took one look at the proposed costs of Project O (yes, they really called it that) and said stuff off. Oh, wait, no, in fact to begin with they weren't even told they were expected to pay anything.
THE campaign to bring Oprah to Melbourne was so top-secret even former tourism minister Tim Holding was left in the dark.
Documents released to the Herald Sun under Freedom of Information reveal Mr Holding did not realise Victoria would be paying for the visit until mid-September last year.
"The minister's office have urgently requested a PPQ (possible parliamentary questions) as they were unaware we were making a financial contribution to this project," a Tourism Victoria communications officer wrote in an email.
"They need this ASAP as they would like to show the minister to take him through it before a decision about sending out a release on this tomorrow."
All a bit late since by this stage it seems the visit was on and Tourism Victoria had already paid a marketing agency 12 grand to woo Oprah Winfrey's production company to come to Melbourne.
The ... pitch to Oprah's Harpo Productions consisted of five presentations, a tram wrapped in Oprah artwork and a one-minute "hype clip" video.
Four Harpo producers were flown in for their own five-star taste of what Victorian taxpayers were willing to offer to secure Oprah's endorsement.
The messiah-like, beatifically smiling Oprah Winfrey shortly after a tram fell on her. Photo from here,
where you'll see that we do this a lot. Decorate trams, that is, not drop them on TV stars.  
Lovely. And we lowly serfs do hope they had a wonderful time. Seriously, I really do hope they enjoyed themselves and come again. I just hope the people who told them 'No, no, put your wallets away, we won't hear of it,' before giving us the tab fall down the stairs and land on their balls. Because the tab included...
OPRAH'S guests stayed at the Intercontinental Melbourne at The Rialto with taxpayers' dishing out $78,828 for their rooms, dining mini-bar, room service and even long-distance phone calls.
GASTRONOMIC delights in some of our best restaurants, including Rockpool, The Press Club, maze, The Point, The Langham and Daylesford's Lake House.
For the benefit of potential visitors The Press Club is owned by one of the Masterchef Australia judges and I once backed away from Rockpool at speed when I saw they had steaks for over a hundred dollars. I didn't dare look at the rest of the menu.
GOLD class visits to our finest attractions, including $60,000 for chopper flights to the Twelve Apostles, $10,000 for hot air balloon trips and an almost $14,000 visit to Domaine Chandon winery in the Yarra Valley.
And just to make sure Oprah and her gang knew how much Melbourne loved them we shelled out a staggering $108,000 to say goodbye with a private dinner at Block Arcade.
That's either a lot of helicopters or they used Airwolf.
Taxpayers paid $30,700 to fly 92 of Oprah's audience and 21 crew and staff from Sydney to Melbourne.
Oprah's gang were also thrown an $80,000-plus welcome party - a $775-a-head event organised by Peter Jones Special Events for Oprah's audience guests and 49 others, including 19 Tourism Victoria staff and a welcome gift of a Nicola Cerini tote bag (cost $12,915) containing a journal ($2195) and Koko Black chocolates ($1244).
For posh chocolates! Christ, if you want guests to experience Australia what the hell's the point in giving them European choccies? Don't get me wrong, Melbourne has some damn good chocolatiers, but it's not exactly Aussie, is it? Come on, we spent all that money - it might even have been worth some of it to see Oprah Winfrey doing a Tim Tam Slam.
Tourism Victoria refuses to detail the entertainment provided for what was possibly the most lavish taxpayer-financed party in this state's history.
I should bloody coco, and they should be ashamed. For Christ's sake, the bloody minister for tourism - a post which, if it has to exist at all, should come with no responsibilities other than to keep the rest of government out of the damn way of the tourism industry - wasn't even told the state would have to cough up until the eleventh hour, and the dippy sods had already started spending. That should have rung alarm bells to put the brakes on there and then, but because governments only spend other people's money they carried on regardless.
Tourism Minister Louise Asher insisted the money was well spent.
Well spent? Jesus, someone fucking born for government, there.
"If you calculate the equivalent advertising space the Victorian part of her shows, which was seven minutes in total, the value of that is $4.2 million," Ms Asher said.
No, Louise, it isn't. That's just what it would have cost to buy normally. I realise that return on investment may be a concept the government is unfamiliar with, but that's where the value is. Now, since the Aussie dollar is still strong and we haven't woken up to find that Oprah has single handedly dragged the continent across the Pacific Ocean to the US west coast the return appears to be roughly two fifths of fuck all. So in other words it's been of no value at all unless Andrew McEvoy's belief that a TV show by a celeb who has since retired will stick in minds for for long enough to have a positive effect on tourism miraculously comes true. If not then we've spunked the money away for nothing when we could have, oh, I don't know, maybe avoided the embarrassment of welcoming the tourists who do come here with the news that they can't buy a single use ticket on the bloody trams but have to drop $10 (not including actual journeys) on a smartcard instead. Avoiding that, Louise, might have had some fucking value, because a tourist who may only want to take two or three tram rides before flying off to one of the other cities might balk at a cost of $20, and my personal experience of tram journeys in Melbourne since the smartcards came in is that I seem to be the only bugger who swipes the bloody thing to pay. But I suppose that kind of thing doesn't have quite the same kudos for pollies as hobnobbing with people who are much more famous, and I suspect quite a lot brighter, than they are.
Winfrey's Harpo Productions did not respond to questions from The Sunday Age.
Harpo spokesman
Can't say I blame them, either for keeping shtum or for taking the money and running. We have our so-called elected and appointed public servants for that, and once again it's the same old refrain.


* His STICK, I said.

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