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On Jan. 27, Tourism Australia held the inaugural event of its bushfire recovery campaign roadshow for travel trade and media, which took place at Marriott Marina Del Rey in Marina del Rey, Calif., for the Los Angeles market. To be hosted in nine cities across the U.S. through Feb. 20, the industry update series will provide information regarding the current state of tourism in Australia. There will also be networking opportunities with representatives from the destination’s states and territories, as well as its industry partners.
The event was originally intended to encompass a brand launch for the tourism board, but plans were readjusted following Australia’s bushfires.
At the start of the evening, Phillipa Harrison, Tourism Australia’s managing director, thanked attending media, travel advisors and industry partners for their continued support, and encouraged them to share the resonating message that Australia is indeed open for business.
“We’re still going to celebrate all things Australia today — but just in a different way,” she said.
Susan Coghill, chief marketing officer for Tourism Australia, led a fireside chat with Craig Wickham, owner of tour operator Exceptional Kangaroo Island and chair of Australian Wildlife Journeys. Both spoke about the regeneration of affected areas such as Kangaroo Island, as well as the resilience of both Aussies and the local environment.
Additionally, TravelAge West sat down ahead of the event with Tourism Australia’s Harrison for her insight into Australia tourism at this time.
What are bushfires like in Australia?Bushfires are an annual occurrence in Australia; it’s just part of our bush regeneration. There are pictures of green shoots of plant life that came up within weeks of the fires; there are a lot of stories about hope and regeneration out there.
We do have bushfires every single summer. This year, they have been unprecedented in the size and duration of them. As a result, bushfire season started a bit earlier — in September of last year. Since then, we’ve been dealing with bushfire season in different pockets. It really accelerated over the Christmas and New Year period, which is when coverage started in a big way.
We all saw the world respond with support, whether in donations or by spreading awareness. What was Australia’s reaction to that?The global outpouring of support was just overwhelming and really heartwarming. However, what did happen over that period was a lot of well-meaning but unfortunate sharing of misinformation. What we are combating now is this misinformation.
People think all of Australia is burning, and anecdotally, many individuals are asking us questions about that. But the reality is that only a small percentage of Australia has been impacted by these fires.
One of our important tasks is to educate people. We can’t sugarcoat it: It has been serious for the areas that have been impacted. There has been loss of wildlife, loss of infrastructure and loss of life, unfortunately. But it is contained to a relatively small area.
From an international tourism point of view, those two areas are Kangaroo Island and also parts of the Blue Mountains (located west of Sydney), though not all of the Blue Mountains. There was a lot of fire activity on the South Coast, but that’s typically not somewhere that Americans go; it’s more of a domestic holiday destination.
We have a perception gap of what people think has happened and what has actually happened.
Are these the only areas currently affected?Yes, but there is a significant caveat: Australia is in the middle of bushfire season. One of the things we are cognizant of is that when there is such an event, we want to make sure people are informed and we are not putting anyone unduly into danger.
But we do have a lot of resources on our website, Australia.com, that has links to up-to-the-minute information.
Are there other destinations that you recommend for travel advisors and their clients?I would say still go to Kangaroo Island. It’s an incredible destination, and there are many tourism experiences available on the island. Same with the Blue Mountains. About 50% of Kangaroo Island was burnt, but companies — such as Exceptional Kangaroo Island — have tours operating even right now. Tours are just diverting slightly and going to different places, but they’re still in business.
Of course, the biggest draw card for Americans is the Great Barrier Reef, and it’s completely unaffected and having a great season. The coral has just spawned, and the turtles are hatching.
Uluru, which is our spiritual heartland, has incredible indigenous offerings. Festival season has just started in Australia, so there is just so much to see and do.
All of the things that are on people’s bucket lists are still there.
Should travelers be concerned about air quality?There has been a few stories about smoke haze in Sydney and Melbourne. There were a couple days where it was fairly impacted by smoke haze. I live in Sydney — it rained overnight, and then the smoke haze was gone. The smoke is very movable, and it’s not an ongoing issue.
How can advisors continue to support Australia’s recovery efforts?Tourism is the lifeblood of the Australian economy. One in 13 jobs in Australia is in the travel industry, so the best thing people can do is come and visit us — and have the trip of a lifetime while they’re doing that.
Tourism is the lifeblood of the Australian economy. One in 13 jobs in Australia is in the travel industry, so the best thing people can do is come and visit us — and have the trip of a lifetime while they’re doing that.
What’s in the pipeline for Tourism Australia?We are certainly working on some big ideas. But really the next six months are going to be about working hard and getting people down to Australia, including media and industry. We need to remind them that we’ve still got some of the best experiences in the world.
- Tourism Australia has a Bushfire Information section on its website with safety tips, travel alerts and a map of which areas are impacted.
- Air-quality.com offers an up-to-date map of air quality throughout Australia.
- Follow Tourism Australia on social media, including Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, for real-time images of experiences around the country.
- Travel advisors can become an Aussie Specialist; the program offers access to additional resources about Australia’s tourism in the wake of the bushfires.
The DetailsTourism Australiawww.australia.com