Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tropical Island ‘Caretaker’ Chosen to Boost Australian Tourism

Australian tourism officials will appoint a “caretaker” today for a tropical island on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef after more than 34,000 people applied for the position billed as the best job in the world.

The winner will be paid A$150,000 ($110,000) to live on Hamilton Island in the northern state of Queensland for six months. The job will entail exploring white sand beaches and coral reefs and promoting the island to tourists in a weekly blog, or online diary.

The appointment is the culmination of a marketing campaign that aims to defy the global recession and boost the number of tourists to Australia. Tourism Queensland estimates the A$1.7 million campaign generated more than A$100 million worth of publicity and may help reverse a forecast 4.1 percent decline in international visitors to Australia this year.

“We’ve certainly got a good return on our investment,” Bruce Wallace, director of market activation and publicity, said in a telephone interview. “There were only two countries in the world that our Web site didn’t receive hits from, Somalia and North Korea.”

Tourism Queensland unveiled its “Best Job in the World” competition in January, in the midst of the northern hemisphere winter and the gloom of a global recession.

Power of Internet

The power of Internet chat forums and social networking sites took over, with more than 200,000 people logging onto its Web site in the first weekend, straining server capacity.

The tourism board whittled down the entrants to 16 candidates, vetting their 60-second video applications for qualities such as “an adventurous spirit” and “excellent communication skills.”

The finalists include students, television presenters, photographers, a teacher, a receptionist and an actress. They come from France, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan, Ireland, Australia, Singapore, China, South Korea, the U.S., Germany, India, the U.K. and the Netherlands.

Benefits of the job, that begins July 1, include a three- bedroom house, rent free, and a buggy to explore Hamilton Island, the largest inhabited island in the region with 800 residents. An 18-hole championship golf course, five hotels and activities including sailing, snorkeling and scuba diving draw more than 125,000 visitors a year to the island.

The campaign “demonstrates the power of the Internet that the industry needs to be able to tap into,” said Olivia Wirth, executive director of the Tourism & Transport Forum, a lobby group representing 200 tourism companies in Australia.

“It has been a very smart way for Tourism Queensland to get their message to millions of people at minimum cost” and cut through the “clutter” of television and magazine advertising at a time when there is a downturn in global demand for holidays, she said.

The forecast drop in international visitor numbers to Australia this year would be the worst performance in 20 years, Tourism Australia said in December.

The A$65 billion industry employs more than 800,000 people.