Business

Australia expecting fewer Barmy Army fans for 2010 Ashes

Two members of the England cricket Barmy Army
Image caption England's Barmy Army fans are known for their colourful and noisy antics at away games

Tourism officials are predicting a sharp fall in the number of British cricket fans heading to Australia for this winter's Ashes series.

Numbers are expected to be down by almost half compared to 2006, with fewer than 20,000 supporters now likely to make the long journey from the United Kingdom to watch the battle for the legendary urn.

Cricketing authorities are blaming the runaway Australian dollar and economic uncertainty.

"Unfortunately we're not expecting as many UK visitors this time," says Peter Young from Cricket Australia.

"The huge tidal wave of UK visitors including the Barmy Army that we had four years ago is not going to be repeated.

"The twin impact of the financial crisis and the exchange rate has meant that the pound buys so much less than it did four years ago."

'Great time'

The Ashes will be the biggest sporting event in Australia this year and strong ticket sales have been reported for the first three days at all five test venues, including the much-anticipated blockbuster in Brisbane that starts on 25 November.

So, the grounds will be far from empty but those stay-away England fans will be missed.

Image caption Peter Young of Cricket Australia says the exchange rate has hit British pockets

The 2006/07 Ashes series and the one-day internationals that followed pumped $320m into the domestic economy, more than both the Formula One Grand Prix and Australian Open Tennis in Melbourne.

On average travelling England fans spent more than $10,000 during their stay, a sizeable chunk doubtless frittered away drowning sorrows during a forgettable tour that saw the tourists thumped 5-0 in the test series.

For Tourism Australia, a government marketing agency, the absence of thousands of big-spending England fans is a disappointment but not a disaster.

"Ashes cricket is always a great time," says said Andrew McEvoy, Tourism Australia's managing director.

"Once every four years we get to host it here, and last time about 30,000 Brits came and watched it all the way through or [in] parts.

"It hasn't sold quite as well this time but we could expect that upwards of 15,000 - 20,000 people will come.

"It is a great time and like a British and Irish Lions rugby tour, the Ashes tour is good news for tourism in Australia."

'Economic benefit'

In early December, the fever will reach Adelaide, the city of churches in sedate South Australia, which is also anticipating healthy financial returns despite muted interest from supporters in the UK.

Image caption The Ashes will be the biggest sporting event in Australia this year

"Business SA welcomes the economic benefit the Ashes brings to South Australian businesses and the local economy in general," says Business South Australia acting chief executive Brett Mahoney in a statement.

"The flow on effect from both international and interstate tourists can be seen across a range of industries like hospitality, travel and retail."

There will, of course, be enthusiastic swathes of white punctuating every test match in Australia this northern winter, where Andrew Strauss' team will have the near-hysterical support of legions of UK backpackers and expatriates.

But those gaps left by the travelling faithful do highlight broader problems within Australian tourism.

'Punch-drunk'

Analyst Tony Charters told the BBC that a combination of competition from other countries, complacency, exchange rates, and declining investment had dealt the industry several painful blows in the past decade.

Image caption It is a challenging time for the Australian tourist sector

"The tourism industry right through the early 2000s became a bit punch-drunk from the impacts of SARS and avian flu, obviously September 11, and the Bali bombings," he says.

"At that point we thought 'things can't get any worse' but the reality is what the industry is dealing with now is actually worse.

"I wouldn't say crisis but it certainly is extraordinarily challenging for particularly the leisure component of the industry."

And, although the Australian economy may be missing out on another Ashes-inspired cash bonanza but heavy-hitting help is on its way.

For, in December, US talk show queen Oprah Winfrey will be heading to Sydney for a high-profile visit.

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