Every summer (November to February), Australia experiences bushfires, due to dry weather and extreme temperatures. It’s normal. But the fires of the past year were unprecedented.
Referring to the conflagration that took 49% of Kangaroo Island, Craig Wickham of Exceptional Kangaroo Island explained: “In terms of the scale and speed of the fire, what took four days to burn in 2007 took four hours this time.”
L-R Craig Wickham, Exceptional Kangaroo Island, Tane Evans, AEA Luxury Tours & Sydney Princess Cruises, Cari Marotta, VoX International,Account Manager for Tourism Australia, Jane Whitehead , Tourism Australia VP Americas, Paul Larcher, VoX International Account Director for Tourism Australia, Chris Allison Head of Commercial Partnerships, Tourism Australia.
Tourism Australia has been raising awareness of the crisis, and the challenges faced by tour operators, by touring North America to speak to travel trade and media. This week saw a luncheon stop at Toronto’s Old Mill.
While the gravity of the situation is real, the perception of a continent on fire is exaggerated.
Tane and Craig sharing their personal stories about the impact of the bushfires on their business and communities.
“There have been some inaccurate depictions of the gravity of the bushfires,” said Jane Whitehead, VP Americas for Tourism Australia. To tackle the misconceptions, Australia.comhas developed a three-stage approach to actively communicate information, rebuild trust and align themselves on a global platform to deliver their message.
Tourism Australia has a dedicated resource section on their website to address the bushfires, with safety tips, interactive maps of impacted regions, and up-to-date information with links to state and local agencies monitoring and communicating conditions in their respective regions.
Tourism Australia’s website has a number of resources available including an up-to-date bushfire map showing impacted areas
The organization has also developed avideo campaignwith an emotional and compelling message from local tour operators that Australia is open for business.
There are many parts of Australia -- including major tourist regions -- that were not impacted by the fires. Many that did feel an impact are on the road to recovery. Especially in east Australia, heavy rainfall has brought much-needed relief and extinguished many bushfires.
L-R Joseph Lacroix, Tuxedo Travel, Alan and Cynthia Iskiw, Great Expectations Travel, Sheila Aue, TPI, Cruise Holidays advisors Barb Tudino, Joanne Sammut and Inez Conti
The tourism industry is valuable and critical to Australia’s economy, with more than 660,000 employed in the industry. From a tour operator perspective, as Tane Evans, from AEA Luxury Tours Sydney Princess Cruises in New South Wales shared, the family owned business had to close its doors for three weeks, taking a loss of $250,000, based purely on cancellations.
What AEA and others are doing is developing contingency plans, revising itineraries and offering alternatives on the ground to continue operations. There is also a big push to encourage domestic travel among Australians.
VoX International’s President Sue Webb with Cari Marotta
Whitehead thanked trade and industry partners for their efforts and proactive outreach to clients with Australia travel plans. By providing accurate information and avoiding a lot of cancellations, advisors were quick to offer alternatives and reassure their clients that it is safe to travel and enjoy an authentic Australian experience.
Whitehead says all the attributes that make Australia a fantastic destinations -- “vibrant cities, incredible wildlife, exceptional food and wine, spectacular coastlines and really warm and welcoming people” – are still there, and always will be.
Karen Dahdah Columnist
An avid traveller, adventure seeker and travel expert for over 15 years, Karen has toured over 35 countries around the world. She shares her first-hand knowledge of unique and off the beaten path destinations including hidden gems in Asia, adrenaline-rushing African safaris, and the fascinating culture of French Polynesia.