CRIKEY, CROC HUNTER WINS TOP EXPORT GONG
News Source: Sunshine Coast Daily, page 5, Friday 10th December, 2004
By: Grant Edwards
Australia Zoo hailed as nation’s leading tourism exporter for 2004.
The crowds which followed Steve Irwin’s every step at Australia Zoo yesterday are typical.
International and Australian onlookers grappled for a look at the Australian legend, who can now lay claim to being the nation’s top tourism exporter.
Irwin and the Zoo were hailed Tourism Export of the Year last night at a gala dinner on the Gold Coast.
He was awarded the honour fresh from a trip to the United States where he mooted plans for expansion into Las Vegas.
Irwin said there has been a “tidal wave” of US interest but maintains “home is where the heart is”.
“Since I announced I would like to make a move toward Las Vegas, we had some big powerful partners everywhere,” Irwin said. “I don’t know where we are going to end up. It is time for me to sit back and be calculated and careful, look out where and what we are going to do.
“It is time to spread out a little bit, but by jingo this is where I will live and this will be where my heart will be from and this will always be the best Zoo in the world.”
But last night, Irwin and his team were focused on what they have achieved abroad in attracting inbound tourists and building the Zoo’s profile internationally.
Each day, the Crocodile Hunter is seen on television in about 140 countries and reaching an estimated audience of 600 million.
“It’s hard to fathom. Do that many people own a television, let alone watching my ugly dial,” Irwin said. “I’m like a figurehead of 460-something staff, and friends and family and colleagues. This is all about Australia Zoo.
“I guess my television exploits have given us the opportunity to get our message called Australia out to hundreds of millions of people.”
Expansion plans for the Beerwah facility are also on track. The South East Asia pavilion is under way and Irwin said tigers will be on display by Easter, closely followed by cheetahs, orangutans and elephants.
“We just had some cheetahs rock up last night. I’m a little sick of everything trying to kill and eat me. So I got these cheetahs, they are sweet and they come up and start purring,” he said.
“We actually see ourselves as being in our infancy. We have a heck of a lot to achieve here…”.