June 17, 2008 / 6:00 AM / 10 years ago

Australia to lure tourists with film epic

CANBERRA (Reuters) - An epic Australian outback movie starring Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman will spearhead a new tourism campaign designed to recapture the country’s “mojo” and lure more visitors Down Under.

Nicole Kidman speaks during a news conference at the United Nations Headquarters in New York April 22, 2008. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Titled “Australia” and directed by flamboyant home-grown director Baz Luhrmann, the A$130 million ($122 million) film follows an English aristocrat (Kidman) who inherits a sprawling property and falls in love with a rugged drover (Jackman).

With sweeping Outback scenery and set in northern Australia on the eve of World War Two, “Australia” will see Kidman and Jackman take 2,000 cattle overland and caught in the wartime bombing of Darwin by the Japanese.

“This movie will potentially be seen by tens of millions of people and it will bring to life little-known aspects of Australia’s extraordinary natural environment, history, and indigenous culture,” Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson said at the weekend.

Tourism Australia will kick off an international marketing campaign to coincide with the film’s planned release in November, Ferguson said. The epic was tipped to bring the biggest boost to tourism since Crocodile Dundee in 1986.

Some cinema critics have predicted the film will be an amalgam of Australian cliches.

But tourism industry officials are hopeful the movie epic will kickstart the country’s tourist arrivals which have stagnated since the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

The film, Luhrmann’s first film since Moulin Rouge in 2001, has been shot on location in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia, the Northern Territory capital Darwin and the tropical city of Bowen.

Australia’s government recently dumped the controversial A$180 million “Where the bloody hell are you?” tourism campaign featuring a bikini model, which was banned in Britain and Canada.

Ferguson has flagged a new international campaign presenting Australia for the next three years as a “mature, inviting country,” while riding on the expected popularity of “Australia” with international audiences.

Tourism numbers have fallen off recently in the face of a Australian dollar approaching parity with the U.S. greenback and with rising fuel and airline ticket prices keeping many potential visitors away.

Tourism industry spokesman Christopher Brown this month lamented that Australians had “lost our mojo” for tourists.

Tourism data in April showed signs of weakness from key markets including Japan, Hong Kong and Britain. Overseas arrivals were down 1.2 per cent in February and 0.7 per cent in January.

Holidaymakers injected A$85 billion into the A$1 trillion economy in 2006 to 2007, with overseas visitors accounting for A$22 billion of that, according to the latest Australia Bureau of Statistics data.

Tourism accounted for 3.7 pct of the Australian economy, but overseas arrivals were down 1.2 pct in February.

A Tourism Australia official this week told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper that “Australia” would be “basically a two and a half hour ad” for the country.

Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in a publicity image for the upcoming Australian epic titled "Australia". REUTERS/20th Century Fox/Handout

Reporting by Rob Taylor, Editing by Valerie Lee

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