How to help tourism in Australia rise from the ashes

Tourism Australia is attempting to attract visitors to parts of the country that have not been impacted by bushfires. Pictures: Shutterstock

Tourism Australia is attempting to attract visitors to parts of the country that have not been impacted by bushfires. Pictures: Shutterstock

If you were an American, you might be forgiven for thinking all of Australia was burning. The images from our fires that were beamed around the world were genuinely terrifying and heartbreaking - but there was, as usual, only limited context about how much of the country was actually being directly affected.

Then, as if the images of kangaroos hopping in front of walls of fire weren't bad enough, the US State Department upgraded its travel advisory for Australia to a Level 2, meaning ''exercise increased caution''. It doesn't matter that's the same level of advisory the US has for countries like the UK, Italy, and Germany, which are some of the most popular destinations for American travellers. Just the act of changing the level appeared to send a message - Australia is not safe, don't go!

Our tourism organisations are well aware of how dangerous perception can be for an industry that is built on image. The first thing they can do is try to tackle any misinformation, which is what Tourism Australia is attempting with a section of its website that lists the parts of the country that have not been impacted. Some organisations are taking it even further - the South Australian Tourism Commission, for example, has put together a list of unaffected regions in the state as alternatives to Kangaroo Island, which has obviously suffered a lot of devastation.

Cape du Couedic Lighthouse station in Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island.

Cape du Couedic Lighthouse station in Flinders Chase National Park on Kangaroo Island.

All of this can only help so much, though. There's no doubt that Australia's tourism industry will be hit this year by falling visitor numbers, as international tourists cancel or postpone their trips, just in case. In some ways, you can't blame them - there are a lot of choices when it comes to holidays so why shouldn't they just play it safe.

I don't think the same goes for us as domestic travellers, though. We do know better and a trip for us within Australia is not nearly the same kind of investment or risk as it is for international tourists.

So, now is the time for us to step up and help our tourism industry.

A sunset over Streaky Bay on Eyre Peninsula, South Australia.

A sunset over Streaky Bay on Eyre Peninsula, South Australia.

There's been a fair amount of discussion in recent days about travelling to the regions that have been hit by the fires. As we know, the worst of the devastation came at the peak of the holiday period when small businesses make most of their money. Many of them didn't just miss out on a week of income - they will lose almost a year's worth.

It's a virtuous idea to encourage people to travel to these regions in the off-peak period to help compensate the small businesses for their lost summer income. And it's clearly having an impact. There's been a huge groundswell of support for the #GoWithEmptyEskys campaign, which suggests you don't just visit these hard-hit tourism destinations, but you buy all your food, petrol and other supplies there, rather than bringing it from home with you.

The problem, though, is that not all regions are ready for tourists yet and it's hard to know exactly where and when is the right time to visit. But as you look ahead into 2020 and start planning your holidays, perhaps your first thought should be for nearby regions that are recovering and want tourists - places like Batemans Bay and the Southern Highlands. Even areas a bit further afield like East Gippsland and Kangaroo Island will still have a lot to offer visitors, despite some parts being so badly damaged that it will be months or years until they're rebuilt.

Beyond the bushfire-impacted regions, though, there is also a need for a general increase in domestic tourism this year. As international visitor numbers fall (which, unfortunately, is inevitable, even if we don't know by how much yet) regions that escaped any direct damage from the bushfires will be hit by the residual economic effect.

Victoria's Great Ocean Road is unaffected by the fires burning across much of Australia.

Victoria's Great Ocean Road is unaffected by the fires burning across much of Australia.

That's why the recommendations by the South Australian Tourism Commission for alternatives to Kangaroo Island are important. It's not just an acknowledgement that the island isn't going to be able to offer the tourism capacity this year that it normally does, it's also a plea to not look overseas for your next holiday. And you don't need to anyway when you realise how amazing some of the alternative suggestions are - the wildlife on the Eyre Peninsula, the scenery in the Adelaide Hills, the wineries of the Fleurieu Peninsula, and the water off the Limestone Coast.

One of the reasons that we tend to go overseas for holidays is because it often ends up much cheaper. The reality is that travelling domestically can be quite expensive and it does cost more to spend a week in Tasmania or Western Australia than in Thailand or Fiji.

But Australians have demonstrated their generosity in the wake of the bushfires, with donations and time, and we can look at our travel choices in the same way this year. Yes, it may cost a little more to change your idea for an international holiday into a domestic one but, even if that money doesn't go directly to helping victims of the bushfires, it will help other tourism businesses that are feeling the effects regardless.

It's a little act of patriotism that also perhaps helps you see a new part of the country and discover more of what Australia has to offer.

If there's a silver lining to all of this tragedy, that would be a nice one.

  • Michael Turtle is a journalist who has been travelling the world for nine years. Check out his travel adventures at timetravelturtle.com
This story How to help tourism rise from the ashes first appeared on The Canberra Times.