Regarding devastating bushfire, the Tourism Australia was forced to suspend an upbeat advertising campaign featuring pop star Kylie Minogue that was launched in the middle of the crisis after the ad was met with incredulity about what many saw as poor timing. Images of the unprecedented scale of this summer’s blazes have evoked global shock and an outpouring of sympathy. Thousands of tourists have been evacuated from coastal towns, international visitors have cancelled flights.
“We’ve been selling Australia on clean air, clear skies, bright shiny beaches, hopping animals. Unfortunately, what people have been seeing (are) singed koalas and kangaroos,” said University of Technology Sydney lecturer David Beirman. More than 9 million overseas tourists visited Down Under in the 12 months to June 2019, adding almost 45 billion Australian dollar ($31 billion) to the economy, while Australians holidaying across the vast continent country spent another Aus $100 billion.
Tourism Australia Managing Director Phillipa Harrison said it was too early to quantify the full impact of the bushfires. But Beirman, who specialises in tourism risk and crisis management, estimates the losses have already run into “billions”. In tourism-reliant towns such as Mogo in New South Wales, where a bushfire reduced homes and businesses to twisted metal and ash, the impact has been felt immediately.
Ten days after the blaze roared through, most remaining shops were shuttered, unable to open until electricity was restored, while the handful that had re-opened were running on generators. “It’s deserted,” gift shop owner Linda Pawley told AFP. “Usually there’s hundreds and thousands of people coming through each day.” Pawley described herself as one of the lucky ones as her shop is still standing, but the future is uncertain. “If the people don’t come back, a lot of the businesses will probably fade out,” she said.
As the bushfire threat has eased in recent days, Australian politicians have exhorted visitors to return to fire-ravaged areas and also not ignore destinations untouched by the disaster. Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham stressed the fact that the country is still very much open for business. “There is much misinformation circulating online and in some media that exaggerates the geographical reach of these tragic bushfires,” he said in a statement to AFP. “I urge people with a booking or considering travel to ensure they have the facts and don’t compound the harm to tourism operators by unnecessarily staying away.”
It is expected to take months or even years to rebuild Mogo and other devastated towns. There is need of strategic thinking and programmes in place to retain those people in communities, said Griffith Institute for Tourism Director Sarah Gardiner.
“Many countries have gone through natural disasters on the sort of scale we’re seeing with the Australian bushfires now and have bounced back pretty effectively, when they’ve got their strategies right,” tourism expert Beirman said, pointing to Japan’s recovery in the wake of the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster.