Senator Birmingham told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age the government “stands ready” to help the tourism industry recover from the bushfires, including promoting fire-ravaged communities as well as unaffected areas.
Reports to the Australian Tourism Industry Council reveal cancelled bookings in some areas unaffected by the bushfires have hit more than 60 per cent.
These include areas in south Gippsland, central Victoria, lower alpine areas and the Murray, while similar rates of cancellations have been reported in central NSW, Western Plains and some parts of Tasmania.
In areas directly hit by bushfires, cancellations in some areas have hit almost 100 per cent.
The slide in domestic tourists will spark calls from the industry for the Commonwealth and states to launch new advertising campaigns encouraging Australians to visit their own country. Currently, Tourism Australia does not undertake any domestic advertising.
Tourism Australia is expected to work closely with the state and territories on some domestic campaign activity over the next few months, according to industry sources.
ATIC executive director Simon Westaway said the cancellation rates were primarily from domestic tourists, but Australia’s reputation overseas as a “pristine environment” had also taken a hit.
“The amount of negative publicity on Australia overseas should not be dismissed,” Mr Westaway said.
“The branding of the country to the outside world won’t have an immediate impact on the industry in terms of international visitors, but federal and state governments and the industry need to ensure Australia continues to be positioned as a pristine and accessible environment … and continues to be seen as an appealing destination.”
Mr Westaway said an advertising campaign, money to fix infrastructure damaged in the bushfires and help for small tourism businesses needed to be part of any government support package.
He said the damage to Australia’s tourism industry was “reaching towards $1 billion”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week personally intervened to change the US travel warning to Australia, after the State Department told its citizens they should “exercise increased caution” when flying Down Under.
Senator Birmingham said the government was “acutely aware” of the challenges ahead for the tourism industry including cancellations and reduced bookings.
“We’ll be updating the tourism industry on what we’re doing to correct the misinformation that is out there about the geographical reach of these bushfires and also the targeted activity that is continuing to make sure the world knows Australia is still open for business and that we want tourists to visit,” he said.
“We’ll also be telling the industry that the government stands ready to help our tourism industry to not only rebuild infrastructure where required but to continue to promote the incredible tourism experiences that are still on offer across Australia in unaffected areas but also in fire-affected areas when it is safe to welcome tourists again.
“This will also be an opportunity for the industry and operators to put their ideas and initiatives on the table so we can continue to back them to offer the world-class experiences our country is known for.”
Tourism operators in Canberra, which has been blanketed in smoke in recent weeks but not seriously threatened by any bushfires, have reported a 20 per cent cancellation rate.
According to the Caravan Industry Association of Australia, there has been $57 million in lost bookings as a result of the fires with some parks having forward booking cancellations of up to 80 per cent.
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.