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CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia, losing its appeal to overseas visitors, is pitching itself as a place to "find yourself" in a massive global tourism campaign aligned with an outback movie starring Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman.
More than 20 years after Crocodile Dundee lured foreigners to the country's tropics and deserts, tourism chiefs are urging holidaymakers to escape the rat race and go "walkabout," a rite of passage when Australia's Aborigines wander in the outback bush.
"This will be the highest profile and most sophisticated campaign ever undertaken by Tourism Australia and it is rightly a source of great hope for our industry," said Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson.
The ads, to be screened in 22 countries, offer Australia as a transformative experience, based around the upcoming blockbuster "Australia" starring Kidman as an English aristocrat transformed last century by the beauty of Australia's vast landscape. The movie also co-stars actor Hugh Jackman as a cattle drover who falls in love with Kidman.
"We've made that core storyline into two short film-like stories of contemporary people who are stressed and disconnected from their loved ones and their true selves, and who find their center and their release in Australia," said Nick Baker of Tourism Australia.
The campaign includes magazine and newspaper advertisements showing foreigners escaping the rat race while Down Under.
"To find yourself sometimes you need to lose yourself. In Australia they call this going walkabout," the ads say, showing tourists diving over the Great Barrier Reef, face to face on a beach with kangaroos or ballooning over the capital Canberra.
Tourism numbers to Australia dropped 4.7 percent last year as the country relied on a failed campaign starring a bikini-clad model asking "where the bloody hell are you?."
The industry injects $46 billion into national coffers, but its share of the $1 trillion economy has slipped sharply as arrivals from key markets in Japan and the United Kingdom plummeted.
As well as the release of the $96 million epic "Australia," tourism chiefs have also pinned their hopes on a sudden fall in the Aussie dollar, which is near a four-year low against the U.S. currency and a five-year low to Japan's yen.
"It's essential that we offer international visitors an experience that they can't get anywhere else, as well as value for money at a time of tight credit," said Christopher Brown of the peak industry group Tourism and Transport Forum. ($1=A$1.40) (Editing by Valerie Lee)