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Lions Tour A Victory For Australian Tourism

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An enthralling series between Australia and the British and Irish Lions is set to be decided in Saturday's third and final test in Sydney, but local tourism and rugby authorities Down Under are already proclaiming a significant victory.

Australia's series-tying 16-15 win in front of a record 56,000 fans at Docklands Stadium in Melbourne last week will be backed up by a sell-out crowd of 80,000 at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney, capping a lucrative nine-match tour of the country.

The Lions had brought some 30,000 British tourists along in their wake, generating up to AUD$150 million for the national economy, Tourism Australia managing director Andrew McEvoy said.

"We've had three years of slight decline (in tourists) from the UK," McEvoy added. "But the Lions fans are great tourists - they watch a match, they party and they have fun."

The recent appreciation of the Australian dollar, fanned by a mineral boom, means there has been no repeat of the songs celebrating the pound's supremacy over the local currency, a standard at pubs packed with Britons during the 2001 series.

Although the pound only buys a more modest AUD$1.65 this time round, as opposed to AUD$2.70 of 2001, it has not dulled the tourists' appetite for local food and beer, or spending on expensive hotel rooms.

A sea of rowdy, red-shirted Britons swept into Sydney's bars and restaurants ahead of the decider, with many flying in on Thursday and Friday expecting another tight contest between two evenly-matched opponents.

Parading around in crimson flame-shaped wigs, fans were soaking up the afternoon sunshine against the backdrop of the iconic Sydney Opera House with beer and shopping bags in hand.

"Generally it's been a bit expensive for us but we don't care, we're having a good time and that's all we're worried about," said Lions fan Chris Turner, who travelled over 17,000 km from Bath.

"I think the cities are expensive as you'd expect. But I'm on budget, it's what I expected to spend," he added.

Analysts suggest otherwise.

The eurozone crisis had caused misery and potentially affected the amount of tourists arriving on Australian shores, said Dave Arthur, director at Sports Business Resources, who conducted an economic impact study for the rugby World Cup in New Zealand in 2011.

HOTEL BOOM

"I remember standing in queues for pubs down in Melbourne (on the last tour) and they were singing songs like 'We get three dollars to the pound'," Arthur told Reuters news agency.

"But when it comes to rational economic motives, when you don't have the money, you're not going to do it."

The hotel industry, however, has had little cause for complaint and rooms were almost fully booked for the midweek Lions' tour match against the Brumbies on June 18 in the normally sleepy parliamentary hub of Canberra.

Journalists covering the match spoke of spartan lodgings on the capital's fringes, with one staying at the local caravan park. Sydney hotels have nearly doubled their room rates for the weekend.

On the eve of the third test, Lions assistant coach Graham Rowntree noted the sea of red-clad fans that had flocked to all of the stadiums and suggested it was time to repay their loyalty with a series victory.

"There's upwards of 40,000 people who have spent a lot of money to come over here and support us," Rowntree told reporters. "That's a significant factor that spurs us on, not to let them down."

(Reuters)

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