Na more valuable than Oprah?
The success of Chinese tennis superstar Li Na in Australia has started a boom in Asian visitors that could be "more valuable than Oprah" for tourism.
Australian Open officials confirmed Monday that fifth seed Li has been the driving force behind a 30 percent rise in ticket sales to China for this year's event, The (Sydney) Daily Telegraph reported.
She has also played a significant role in a 400 percent rise in visitors from the Asia-Pacific since 2004. Li made a historic first grand slam final appearance by a Chinese player at the Australian Open last year, generating a frenzy in her home country, before going on to win the French Open.
She has continued her red-hot form in 2012, making the final of last week's Apia International in Sydney, in a field featuring nine of the world's top 10 players, and winning her Australian Open first-round match Monday.
Tourism and Transport Forum boss John Lee said the spike in Chinese visitors coming to watch Li in Australia this year was already benefiting tourism.
"The Chinese fans are not only visiting Melbourne, they will visit Sydney, the Barrier Reef and Uluru," he said.
"She's made a successful start to 2012 and if that continues Li could be more valuable to Australian tourism than Oprah. Li is one of the most recognized people in China and she spends a considerable amount of time in Australia every year."
The Australian government spent AU$5 million (US$5.3m) to bring US talk show queen Oprah Winfrey and 302 of her "ultimate fans" Down Under on a whirlwind tour in December 2010, in a bid to boost visitor numbers.
The shows filmed in Australia by Winfrey screened in the US in January last year, but some have questioned whether the promotion worked.
During the year ended September 30, 2011, there were around 5.4 million visitors to Australia aged 15 years and over, a one percent increase on the same time the previous year, while visitors from the United States fell about four percent.
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