Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

Jan Copeman gazes through a picture window at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, the green fields of Baker Valley backed by the brilliant white peaks of the Elkhorns, and she can, with a certain creative license, imagine her home of Queensland, Australia.

The verdant valley is familiar enough.

So is the unblemished blue sky on this fine early May morning.

But the jarring intrusion on this otherwise recognizable scene is the one that many people might choose as the most beautiful.

It’s that white mantle draped over the Elkhorns.

“In Queensland we don’t have snow,” said Copeman, a freelance travel writer and editor who works for Travel Associates, a large travel agency based in Brisbane, Queensland’s capital.

But they do have mountains.

Known as the Great Dividing Range, the mountains that span most of Eastern Australia, including parts of Queensland at the continent’s northeast corner, are not dramatically different from some of the ranges Copeman has seen this week during her first visit to Oregon.

Nor is topography the only similarity, Copeman said.

Just as the vast majority of Australia’s population is confined to several cities along its eastern and southeastern coasts — Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide among them have about 55 percent of the country’s inhabitants — so is Oregon’s population density vastly greater in the Willamette Valley than elsewhere.

But travelers don’t venture halfway around the world just to see places that remind them of home.

And one reason Copeman, along with about 30 other journalists and travel business operators from many countries, took in that stirring vista from the Interpretive Center Thursday morning was so they could try to entice their readers, and customers, to follow in their footsteps across Oregon.

This several-day “Road Rally” is an annual event coordinated by Travel Oregon. The purpose is to introduce, or in some cases re-acquaint, international writers and tourism officials with all Oregon has to offer visitors.

The ultimate goal, naturally, is to encourage people to visit.

“It’s an exciting opportunity,” said Timothy Bishop, Baker County’s contract tourism director, who accompanied the group to the Interpretive Center.

The visitors, who started in Portland and traveled across the Cascades to Bend and then through Central Oregon to Grant and Baker counties, spent Wednesday night in Baker City. They strolled downtown streets and sampled restaurants and shops.

Copeman, who writes articles for her company’s quarterly travel brochures, among other publications, said she is “quite blown away by Oregon.”

She believes Travel Associates will be able to sell Oregon, including Baker County, as a destination — particularly to clients who already intend to visit California.

Copeman shares a chuckle with Greg Eckhart, director of global sales for Travel Oregon and one of the Road Rally guides.

“Oregon is above California,” Copeman says, meaning in a geographic sense.

“Above in every way,” Eckhart completes a joke that has been repeated during the group’s journey across the state this week.

Copeman said Oregon “ticks quite a lot of boxes” that her company’s clients are interested in when planning a travel destination.

“There is a lot of history, culture and obviously a lot of scenic beauty here,” she said, gesturing toward the sylvan scene outside the Interpretive Center.

Cultivating Antipodean tourists is a relatively new emphasis for Travel Oregon, said Corey Marshall, an account director for the agency who focuses on Australia and New Zealand (and, in a rather large geographic discrepancy, Canada).

Marshall, who works from Auckland, New Zealand, said that when Travel Oregon opened its office there it was the first time Oregon had been marketed in that region as a tourist destination.

Travel Oregon invites journalists to join the Road Rally for the obvious reason that their articles can give travelers ideas about places to visit.

The inclusion of officials from travel agencies is vital because foreign travelers tend to be more likely than Americans to hire an agency.

Marshall said studies have shown that among Australians and New Zealanders, 42% who visit Oregon arranged their trip through a travel agency.

Reliance on travel agencies is similarly high among Western Europeans, who make up a significant share of Oregon’s international visitors, Eckhart said.

The guestbook at the Interpretive Center bears this out.

In just the past month — and not all visitors sign the book — its pages include entries from residents of Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands.

The latter country is an interesting case, Eckhart said, and it’s due to a reality TV show: “Who is the Mole?”

Episodes filmed in Oregon — none in Baker County, although the crew did visit Pendleton — introduced Dutch viewers to the state, he said.

“That was just a game-changer for the Netherlands market,” Eckhart said.

He said Europeans have long enjoyed visiting Oregon, including the eastern part of the state, due in part to the sparse population that’s so different from their relatively small, but densely inhabited, countries.

Germany, for instance, is 40% larger than Oregon in land area, but Germany’s population, at 82.5 million, i s 181% higher than Oregon’s 4.2 million.

“The chance to not see another human for three or four hours is a re ally nice thing,” Eckhart said.