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Australia sets scene for visitors

July 29, 2008|Alana Semuels | Times Staff Writer
  • Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman star in the upcoming movie "Australia." Due for release in November, the film  follows the two as they drive cattle across the continent on the eve of World War II. Director Baz Luhrmann has agreed to adapt "Australia"  for an advertising campaign to lure tourists to the land down under.
Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman star in the upcoming movie "Australia."… (AFP / Getty Images )

A big-budget movie that glamorizes Australia would seem to be a perfect commercial for Australia. Especially if it's made by a famous Australian director who's working for a movie studio controlled by an Australian-born media mogul.

And now it will be. Baz Luhrmann, the Australian director of the 20th Century Fox period piece "Australia" due out in November, has agreed to adapt the movie for an advertising campaign to lure tourists to the land down under.

Marketers are hoping the ad and movie combo will have the same effect that "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy had for New Zealand, where it was filmed, and "Notting Hill" had for the London neighborhood: attract moviegoers swayed by the romance of the film.

"It's a marketer's dream," said Michelle Gysberts, vice president of Tourism Australia. "The movie itself will show tremendous landscapes, bringing Australia to the top of mind."

It's also a Hollywood studio's dream of free movie publicity. The 30- and 45-second TV and movie spots, which will begin airing in October, will feature "an urban couple transformed by an adventure," Gysberts said. The spots also feature Brandon Walters, an Aboriginal actor in the movie, and images of the continent.

Gysberts says Tourism Australia is spending $40 million Australian (about $38 million in U.S. dollars) on the campaign, which also includes print and online ads created by DDB Worldwide.

A spokesman for Fox said executives were traveling and not available for comment. Fox is a unit of News Corp., which is controlled by Australian-born Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch became a U.S. citizen in the 1990s to comply with federal regulations that prohibited foreign-controlled companies from owning TV licenses in the United States.

Other movies have boosted tourism. The number of visitors to New Zealand increased 30% after "The Lord of the Rings" showcased the country's vast mountain landscapes. Some wineries in the Santa Barbara area saw a 300% increase in visitors after the film "Sideways" featured two men hitting the local wine scene. And thousands of visitors annually still flock to a baseball field in Iowa to get nostalgic about the Kevin Costner film "Field of Dreams."

"Australia" is Luhrmann's first movie since the 2001 musical "Moulin Rouge!" which won a Golden Globe award for best musical or comedy and netted eight Academy Award nominations and two wins. "Australia" follows two characters, played by Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, as they drive cattle across the continent on the eve of World War II.

This isn't Luhrmann's first foray into blending one of his films with an advertising opportunity. He directed a "Moulin Rouge"-inspired Chanel commercial starring Kidman that looked a lot like the movie.

In a statement, Luhrmann said he agreed to direct the commercial for Tourism Australia because, like his film, the agency aims to "celebrate the truly unique and transformative power of this ancient and extraordinary continent." As if to answer critics, he said the ad would not be "aping the film."

Yet even a famous director might have trouble persuading tourists to spend thousands of dollars on a plane ticket to Australia. These days, most travelers are staying close to home. Data show that destinations such as Hawaii and Orlando, Fla., which depend heavily on visitors coming by air, are drawing fewer tourists, said Carl Winston, director of the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at San Diego State University.

Travel to Australia has been relatively stagnant in the last three years. The number of visitors from the U.S. increased 2.2% to 456,000 in 2006, but grew only 0.6% in 2007. An advertising campaign might help, Winston said, but ads for destinations usually lead to spur-of-the-moment trips.

"People don't make impulse trips to Australia," he said.


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