SYDNEY (Reuters) - Oprah Winfrey might have surprised her talk show audience Monday by giving them all a free, eight-day trip to Australia but the trip also surprised Australians -- with a A$3 million (US$2.8 million) bill.
Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson said the federal and state New South Wales governments would spend more than $3 million helping to bring “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to Australia as a way to boost tourism.
He said it was money well spent as it would put Australia in the spotlight with the popular TV show watched by 40 million Americans and screened in 145 countries.
“Oprah is a household name and her star power has the potential to lift Australia’s profile as a premier tourist destination,” Ferguson said in a statement Tuesday.
Former federal tourism minister John Brown asked the media not to be “cynical about the cost” at a time when the number of Australian leaving for overseas holidays outstrips the number of tourists coming to Australia for vacations.
“We spent hundreds of millions of dollars over 30 years without much effect, I must say that honestly,” he told a news conference. “The publicity that Oprah will bring to Australia around the world is something you couldn’t buy.”
The trip was announced by Winfrey at the premiere of her 25th and final season Monday.
Some 300 audience members clapped, cried and hugged each other as Winfrey told them they were off to Australia for eight days and seven nights where she will film at least two episodes of her show including one at the Sydney Opera House on December 14.
It is the first time the show will have been filmed with its U.S. audience outside North America.
“I started to think about where would I most want to go. Maybe I should take all of you with me to the other side of the world ... We’re going to Australia!” she said.
Previously, the famously generous Winfrey has given each audience member a new car, and recently handed staff members of her “O” Magazine Apple iPads and $10,000 checks. She has also handed out school scholarships, money for homes, and financed a school for girls in South Africa.
Winfrey won’t be off the airwaves after her talk show “The Oprah Winfrey Show” ends, as her Oprah Winfrey Network is set to kick off on cable on January 1.
Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Dean Goodman