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Australian tourism industry seeks urgent help as cost of bushfires grows

Melbourne, Australia

Australia’s peak tourism body estimated the country’s bushfire crisis has so far cost the industry almost $A1 billion and called for urgent help from the government to lure back visitors.

Industry bosses were due to meet with Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham later on Thursday as storms and heavy rain brought some respite from months of fierce bushfires across Australia’s east coast. 

Australia bushfires injured kangaroo

An injured kangaroo with a joey in its pouch, limps through burnt bushland in Cobargo, Australia, on 9th January, 2020. PICTURE: Reuters/Tracey Nearmy/File Photo

The fires, which have killed 29 people and razed bushland across an area the size of Bulgaria, have hit several coastal towns at the height of the profitable summer season. 

“People have basically stopped travel,” Simon Westaway, executive director of Australian Tourism Industry Council, told Reuters. “And that’s absolutely understandable: human nature kicks in.” 


Australia will have to wait until March for rains heavy enough to bring sustained relief from dry weather that has fuelled deadly bushfires, the country’s weather bureau said on Thursday.

Over the past few months the bushfires have razed an area roughly a third the size of Germany, killed 29 people, and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.

Some 100 fires are burning across the east coast, and authorities battling to contain them reckon most will stay alight until they doused by sustained rain.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said there is a 50 per cent chance that the bulk of the country’s east will receive average rainfall from March 1 through to May 30.

Even then, the bureau warned more rains would be needed to end three years of drought on the east coast.

“While outlooks for drier than average conditions have eased compared to those issued for late 2019, several months of above average rainfall are needed to see a recovery from current long-term rainfall deficiencies,” the bureau said in an emailed statement.

The wetter outlook provided some hope for firefighters, who were helped on Thursday by downpours on the east coast.

“Although this rain won’t extinguish all fires, it will certainly go a long way towards containment,” the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said on Twitter.

The relief, however, is expected to be temporary, with hot weather forecast to return in coming weeks.


Even though recent cooler conditions have led some tourist destinations to reopen after they were evacuated because of the fires, people remain wary of visiting.

Images of burnt-out towns, people huddled on beaches to escape huge flames, dead wildlife and thick smoke hanging over major cities have been beamed around the world. 

The qualifying rounds of Australian Open in Melbourne this week, the first tennis Grand Slam of the year, have been blighted by complaints from players about the pollution.

“The imagery of the fires in the global marketplace is very bad for our country,” Westaway said. “We are worried about the contagion that that may have.”

Tourism accounts for more than three per cent of Australia’s $A1.95 trillion economy, with nine million foreigners visiting the country annually and domestic tourism growing. 

Accommodation booking cancellations in non-fire zones have reached upwards of 60 per cent, while in fire-affected areas there were no tourists at all, Westaway said. Many destinations rely heavily on domestic tourism, as well as international visitors.

This week’s wet weather brought some temporary respite for fire-hit areas, but also came with the warning of potential flash floods and lightning that could ignite new fires.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier this week welcomed a US move to downgrade a travel warning and has stressed that Australia is open for business.

Birmingham said he would seek firsthand feedback from tourism bosses at Thursday’s meeting and devise a strategy to reassure visitors that many tourism destinations are untainted by fires.

Following are some highlights of what is happening in the bushfire crisis: 

• There were 85 fires burning across the state of New South Wales on Thursday, with 30 of them yet to be contained, while 19 fires were alight in Victoria, according to fire authorities.

• The rain has brought relief for a number of firefighters working across New South Wales state. “Although this rain won’t extinguish all fires, it will certainly go a long way towards containment,” state fire services said.

• Emergency responders in Victoria have dealt with nearly 600 cases of falling trees, flash flooding and other damage in since late Wednesday and warned of more risks from storms starting Monday.

• Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne ranked among the top 50 most polluted major cities worldwide on Thursday, according to AirVisual’s pollution ranking for major global cities, with winds set to bring more smoke to Melbourne over the weekend.

• The smoke haze that has plagued Australia’s major cities for weeks and has been tracked by NASA circumnavigating the globe.

• Australia’s conservative government has softened its rhetoric on climate change amid the crisis, acknowledging this week that changes are real and the country needs a strategy of “adaptation” and “resilience”.

•  Australia’s Wollemi Pines, giant prehistoric trees that were thought to be extinct until 1994, were specially protected by firefighters as blazes swept through their secret location in a NSW national park.



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