U.S. Woman Wins 'Best Experience in the World,' Then Vanishes

No sign of the U.S. who won Australia's "best experience in the world."

ByKelly Belknap
October 15, 2009, 11:22 AM

LONDON, Oct. 15, 2009 — -- Would you pass up the "best experience in the world?" One woman is close to doing so.

On Oct. 9, a U.S. woman beat out more than 23,000 contestants to win Tourism Queensland's Best Experience in the World competition in which she and three friends would enjoy an all-expenses paid vacation to the Queensland islands in Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

But the woman is nowhere to be found and the trip of a lifetime may still be up for grabs.

"Tourism Queensland has sent her e-mails and has tried to call her several times since the draw on Friday but hasn't made contact yet," Steve McRoberts, Tourism Queensland's marketing director, said in a news release.

Tourism Queensland officials are giving the U.S. winner until Oct. 23 to claim her prize or else they will be forced to redraw.

The competition began at the end of August and generated tremendous enthusiasm abroad. Tourism Queensland said entries closed last Wednesday and were received from more than 150 countries around the world including Venezuela, Bosnia, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Trinidad.

The competition was created to spur interest in island caretaker Ben Southall's blog. Southall was a winner of another one of Tourism Queensland competitions, the Best Job in the World.

Southall's prize would be to live in a fantastic house on a paradise island in Australia's Great Barrier Reef for six months and get paid $110,000 to do it. His only requirement would be to write a weekly blog on his experience.

Southall was one of 34,000 people to apply for the role of island caretaker.

In his application video, Southall expressed a love for adventure, and featured photographs of himself riding an ostrich, running a marathon, scuba diving and kissing a giraffe.

Southall's sense of adventure and passion for the job paid off and wowed the Australian tourism bureau. "From the time he was announced in the Top 50, and then the Top 16, Ben has excelled in showing a true passion for Queensland," Queensland Tourism Minister Peter Lawlor said in a statement.

"His ideas for how he will make the role his own ... plus his initiative and ability to rise to a challenge impressed the selection panel and secured his place in the top job."

Tourism Queensland: Competition Hype Helping Australian Economy

Before assuming the role as blogging beach bum, Southall told ABC's Nick Watt, "Well, it's going to be tough. Yes, it's going to be horrible learning how to sail, how to dive, to go bush walking."

Since Southall began blogging in July, the 34-year-old charity fundraiser has kept himself busy exploring the wonders down under.

The idea of creating the island caretaker role has helped inject millions of dollars into the Australian tourism industry during a tough economy, Tourism Queensland CEO Anthony Hayes said.

"We think we've just ticked over $110 million in international publicity and probably another, hopefully, $20 or $30 million coming this week," he said.

Likewise, the Best Experience in the World competition has been successful in drumming up interest in Australian tourism.

"Since the competition was announced, we've seen a spike in visitation and interest in Ben's blog, with more than 180,000 people visiting www.islandreefjob.com since the competition was launched" Aug. 26, Tourism Queensland's McRoberts said.

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