Outside a few parts of the world (largely those once colonies of Great Britain) the game of cricket remains largely a mystery. Even more so, the enigmatically named Ashes, the prize competed for in a Test series between England and Australia. But the Ashes epitomise a sporting rivalry, and often a clash of cultures, between England and Australia that dates back to the 19th century. The biennial Ashes series is named after a small terracotta urn said to contain the remains of a bail symbolising 'the ashes of English cricket' after England's first series defeat on home soil in 1882. The latest 5-match Test series (which ended on Sunday) has resulted, as in 2005, in the Ashes being regained by England after a defeat in the last series in Australia in 2006/07. While Australian sporting fans lick their wounds and the English celebrate, some in Australia are nevertheless trying to find positives in defeat.

In what may be taking 'looking on the bright side' to new heights, New South Wales Tourism Minister Jodi McKay says in the Sydney Morning Herald that the defeat may be good for Australia's tourism industry. The rationale is that England's 2-1 series victory (2 of the 5 Tests resulted in draws) will guarantee record numbers of England fans making the trip from the UK for the next Ashes series in late 2010.

An Economic Impact Assessment of the 2006/2007 series in Australia reported that the Ashes generated Aus$265 million in incremental direct expenditure in the Australian economy. It also boosted GDP by $45 million, with an additional $52 million in direct expenditure and $9 million in GDP contributed by the One Day Internationals which accompanied the 5-day Tests.

Around 37,000 international visitors were spectators at the 2006/07 Ashes series, with the majority of those coming from the United Kingdom. It is estimated that 64% of these international visitors came to Australia primarily for the Ashes. On average these incremental international visitors stayed for 29.5 days and spent $10,425 during their stay in Australia.

"I expect the next tour will be even bigger," Ms McKay said. "And it's not just the cricket the Barmy Army will get to enjoy.

"The fact is there is simply no better place in the world to welcome in the New Year than Sydney."

Ms McKay said Sydney will be promoted in the UK as a New Year's tourism destination in the run-up to the next Ashes series.

The Economic Impact Assessment from 2006/2007 can be downloaded in PDF format through this link. But it may not provide much consolation to dejected Aussie cricket fans!

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