By Nick Bryant
BBC News, Sydney
34,000 people in 200 countries applied for the Best Job in the World
What happens if a global tourism marketing campaign dresses up as a job recruitment drive? A global reality TV show gets under way.
Tourism Queensland launched its Best Job in the World competition in January hoping to generate fresh interest in Australia's sunshine state - a dream location, according to the locals, that is beautiful one day, and perfect the next.
The internet, and its social networking sites, then delivered. Within the first 48 hours, they had received more than 7,500 online applications.
Better still, more than 200,000 people logged on to the site in the first weekend alone, placing unexpected strains on server capacity.
No wonder. In these "feel-bad" times, Tourism Queensland had opened up the ultimate feel-good job: the post of 'caretaker' at the blissful Hamilton Island on the Great Barrier Reef, with a six-month contract worth a handy Aus $150,000 (US $110,000).
Then there's the three-bedroom beach home you get to luxuriate in, which comes with a swimming pool and golf cart.
The successful candidate must also be willing, in the words of the online advertisement, "to explore the islands of the Great Barrier Reef, swim, snorkel, make friends with the locals and generally enjoy the tropical Queensland climate and lifestyle".
Nice work, if you can get it, and 34,000 applicants from over 200 countries thought they stood a chance.
Applicants must "swim, snorkel, make friends with the locals"
Now the field has been whittled down to 16 finalists, including a wild card entry chosen, in true reality television style, through an online poll.
They include a receptionist, some students, a teacher, a charity event manager, and an actress. And on 3rd May, they're all due to converge on Hamilton Island for the final.
The biggest winner, though, is Tourism Queensland, which reckons that for US$1m, it generated US$70m of global publicity.
"We did it on the smell of an oily rag," says Danielle Kootman of Tourism Queensland. "We pitched it after Christmas in the northern hemisphere when there is not much news around, and so amidst all the cold and gloom here came the dream job.
"It really captured the imagination of the world."
It also helped that the organisers received a hoax application from a man purporting to be Osama Bin Laden, while Tourism Queensland generated even more headlines by concocting a story that one applicant felt so passionately about the job that she tattooed an advert for the Great Barrier Reef on her arm.
The campaign sparked lots of people's attention
Imitation is the highest form of flattery, so it's no surprise that other have sought to replicate the success of this viral campaign. The 'NEXT Best Job in the world', a short-lived Canadian venture, has now been postponed.
Russell Howcroft, an advertising executive who is a regular panellist on the hit Australian show, The Gruen Transfer, says Queensland's online campaign has been so successful because "it isn't an overclaim".
"All the best advertising makes a legitimate claim, and for many people this really is the best job in the world. The proposition is supported."
The challenge now for tourism chiefs is to convert interest into visitation, a tough task for such a long-haul destination and at a time when there are fears within the Australian tourism industry that visitor numbers could drop by 250,000.
But Tourism Queensland says it has received heightened interested from airlines, which might look to establish new routes serving the sunshine state, and from global travel companies.
Once again, the campaign has demonstrated the power of the internet, and of viral marketing.
President Barack Obama harnessed the power of the web to win the most powerful job in the world. Now Tourism Queensland has used similar techniques in what it claims has now become the most sought-after job in the world.