Australian tourism industry seeks urgent government help as cost of bushfire grows

World Faizah Kamal 20-Jan-2020
Bushfire in Australia
Bushfire in Australia © Martin Helgemeir | Dreamstime.com

Australia’s peak tourism body estimated that the country’s bushfire crisis has so far cost the industry almost A$1 billion ($690 million) and called for urgent help from the government to assist in increasing the number of visitors to the country.

Industry bosses were due to meet with Australia’s Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham on January 16, as recent storms and heavy rain brought some respite after months of fierce bushfires spreading across Australia’s east coast.

The fires, which have killed 29 people and destroyed bushland across an area the size of Bulgaria, have hit several coastal towns at the height of the profitable summer season.

“People have basically stopped travel,” Simon Westaway, executive director of Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC), told Reuters. “And that’s absolutely understandable: human nature kicks in.”

Even though recent cooler conditions have led some tourist destinations to reopen after they were evacuated because of the fires, people remain wary of visiting.

Images of burnt-out towns, people huddled on beaches to escape huge flames, dead wildlife and thick smoke hanging over major cities have been beamed around the world.

The qualifying rounds of Australian Open in Melbourne this week, the first tennis Grand Slam of the year, have been blighted by complaints from players about the pollution.

“The imagery of the fires in the global marketplace is very bad for our country,” Westaway said. “We are worried about the contagion that that may have.”

Tourism accounts for more than 3 percent of Australia’s A$1.95 trillion economy, with 9 million foreigners visiting the country annually and domestic tourism growing.

Cancellations of accommodation bookings in non-fire zones have reached upwards of 60 percent, while in fire-affected areas there were no tourists at all, Westaway said. Many destinations rely heavily on domestic tourism, as well as international visitors.