Australians vying for a slice of Oprah

Australian tour operators are clamouring to feature in US megastar Oprah Winfrey's December tour Down Under and thousands of tickets have been sought, the tourism minister said Monday.

Oprah and 300 audience members will spend eight days sampling the best of Australia's beaches, vineyards and shopping, taking in icons including Sydney Harbour and the Great Barrier Reef.

Her visit will conclude with a recording session of her hit talk show at the temporarily renamed Sydney "Oprah" House, which will be open to the Australian public via a ticket ballot.

Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson said Oprah's decision to bring filming of her final season to Australia was a "major endorsement" and was a welcome boost for the tourism industry as it struggled with the rallying local dollar.

"To date there have been expressions of interest from 3,000 product and service offerers," Ferguson told parliament.

"Thousands of Australians, including many of the opposition side of the house, have sought tickets to the filming of the Oprah Winfrey Show," he added, eliciting hoots and jeers from MPs.

Ferguson said tourism employed almost one million Australians and it accounted for 8.3 percent of the country's total exports.

"The tourism industry at the moment is very challenged by the strength of the Australian dollar," he said, referring to the resources-linked surge which saw the "Aussie" breach parity with the greenback briefly this month.

"In that context the Oprah Winfrey show is very important."

Oprah's show weekly attracted more than 40 million viewers in North America, a market Ferguson said had remained resilient for Australia-bound tourism despite the global slump.

Tourism officials were swamped with offers to host the TV star following her announcement, from rainforest and reef resorts to humble homes in Outback towns.

Australia paid 2.3 million US dollars to lure the 56-year-old Down Under, and the talkshow diva hasn't ruled out a homestay with a "real Aussie" during her whirlwind tour.

Winfrey was ranked the world's most powerful celebrity by Forbes magazine this year, outclassing actress Angelina Jolie and singer Beyonce Knowles.

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