Tourism Australia are hoping to cash in on the Oprah Effect, with tourism experts describing plans to bring the queen of US daytime television Oprah Winfrey to Australia as “brilliant”.

The popular culture icon, whose hugely popular talk show beams into 141 countries and is watched by 30 million viewers each week, announced to a shrieking studio audience of 300 this morning (our time) that she would be accompanying them on a flight to Australia for an eight-day, all-expenses-paid trip in December this year.

As part of a deal between Tourism Australia and Qantas — who announced a $44 million partnership in May — celebrity pilot and Battlefield Earth star John Travolta will fly the entourage to Sydney, where two episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show will be filmed.

“We have been secretly plotting, planning, this trip of a lifetime for almost a year with everyone at Tourism Australia,” shouted Winfrey between screams from the audience. “And they are ready to roll out the red carpet for all 300 of us.”

In a ‘personal greeting to Australia’, Oprah told YouTube viewers that she wanted to bring her “ultimate adventure” to Australia because she had never been and wanted to “see the sights, hear the sounds and taste the wine”.

The high-profile tourists are expected to visit sites in Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales, with the itinerary highlight a stopover at the Sydney ‘Oprah’ House. Qantas, Tourism New South Wales, the Sydney Opera House, Tourism Victoria, Tourism Queensland, R.M.Williams and Channel 10 have been announced as partners in the scheme, which Tourism Australia believes will cost around $1.5 million. It is unclear which organisations are funding the venture, although Motorola and Chevrolet have been announced as sponsors.

“The fact that Ms Winfrey has chosen to share her first visit to Australia with her television audience is a huge backing for our country and provides an amazing opportunity for Australian tourism,” said Tourism Australia chairman Geoff Dixon in a statement released this morning.

Dr Sue Beeton, associate professor in tourism at La Trobe University, told Crikey that the tourism coup was “just brilliant” and that Winfrey’s reputation added enormous credibility to the endorsement.

“She certainly has that high international profile,” Beeton told Crikey. “It almost seems that it is too good, in the sense that anything that she endorses seems to take off exponentially.”

Tourism Australia will certainly be hoping that they can cash in on the Winfrey hype. The talk show doyenne regularly plugs products or companies she approves of through her ‘Oprah’s favourite things’ segment — the most watched episode of the year — which in turn typically see a big boost in sales.

In a documentary called the ‘The Oprah Effect’, marketing analysts found that nearly everything Oprah touched turned to gold. One example offered was fragrance company Carol’s Daughter, which went from $2 million dollars in sales to $22 million after being featured on the show.

But not everyone is sure that this PR campaign will pay off, with some outlets posing the theory that the giveaway could lead to a backlash.

Beeton told Crikey that the real interest would be to see if the publicity generated by the Winfrey visit would translate into tourism dollars.

“That’s the challenge, we’ve got a good profile in the US and this will certainly help that, but will it drive people to come here? It’s very hard to measure, but it will be very interesting.”

There are no stats on whether Australian tourism numbers received a bump after US programs such as The Simpsons (Bart vs Australia), South Park (Season 3: Welcome to the Fine Planet of Australia), Family Guy (Peter in Australia) and, ahem, the Olsen twins took a trip here (Our Lips Are Sealed), but what sets Oprah apart is the power of her brand.

Rowan Barker, spokesperson for the Australian Tourism and Transport Forum, told Crikey that Winfrey had a strong brand and a lot of credibility among a broad range of people in the US.

“This kind of coverage would cost an absolute mint if you had to pay for the airtime,” Barker told Crikey. “A lot of Americans only have two weeks’ holiday every year, it’ll plant the seed for a lot of people who look at coming to Australia as ‘a trip of a lifetime’.”

The partnership has already made a splash across the international media, with the Washington Post, Daily Mail and the New York Times all reporting on the announcement. As of publication, Google News had aggregated 1,208 news sources covering the tourism coup.

Dr Sue Beeton told Crikey that Tourism Australia would watch carefully how much was spent on Winfrey, after the government body reportedly spent $150 million on their latest ‘There’s Nothing Like Australia’ promotion and $180 million on the mildly controversial ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’ campaign.

“There will be some financial support for this and Tourism Australia are always heavily scrutinised as to what they’re spending their money on. So consequently, they really do try to quantify the dollar value for any benefits that something like this will bring.”

According to Tourism Australia, the tourism industry contributes $92 billion to the national economy and directly employs almost half a million people.