As I traveled throughout Australia November 29-December 10, 2019, as part of Dreamtime, Tourism Australia’s biannual business events incentive familiarization trip, I got glimpses of the Australia fires that have increased in intensity and now plague the country. On my flight from Sydney to Perth, I witnessed tunnels of smoke dotting the landscape. The fires did not impact my trip in any way except the smoky, pungent air that enveloped Sydney.
The weather has gotten hotter and dryer since I was there, and the fires have gotten much worse. A total of 24 people have died, and in the state of New South Wales alone, it is reported that more than 2,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged. It is also estimated that about half a billion animals have been affected by the New South Wales fires, with millions probably dead.
Wilderness Travel has trips taking place in New Zealand and Tasmania at this time and has not cancelled any, but is in continual contact with its partners on the ground.
“New Zealand has been only mildly, and intermittently affected by the smoke. Tasmania has had a few regions with poor air quality, but again, this is very local and constantly changing, depending on the wind,” explains Barbara Banks, director of marketing and new trip development for Wilderness Travel. “Much of Australia is not affected, yet the areas that are, have been heavily impacted. This is when you need a trusted travel advisor. Someone with contacts on the ground who are monitoring the situation day by day, so that they can do right by their clients. That is our way of working; it creates a relationship of trust that is invaluable. We have not hesitated to cancel trips if conditions in the destination did not seem safe or predictable.”
Goway issued a press release addressing the issue of whether Australia remains safe for travel at this time. It states, “We must stress that while the seriousness of the bushfires in Australia has not been overstated, many parts of the country of interest to international tourists are unaffected and remain open for travel. To be specific, some key regional areas in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia, including western Kangaroo Island, have been affected and are currently not recommended for travelers. However, many previously affected regions have since re-opened to tourism. For instance, touring of the Blue Mountains in New South Wales has resumed and Kangaroo Island is also still accepting visitors in the unaffected eastern towns of the island.”
I also reached out to Tourism Australia to find out how the raging fires have impacted tourism.
“At this stage, it is too early to quantify the full impact of the bushfires on the tourism and business events industry, and any knock-on effect in terms of international visitation to Australia,” said a Tourism Australia spokesperson. “We are still gathering feedback from industry and monitoring impacts on future bookings closely as the situation unfolds.
We have already begun connecting with industry partners regarding the bushfires and how we can continue to support the sector. And given the widespread international coverage, we will have an important role to play in highlighting that Australia will continue to be a world-leading and safe destination, whether in unaffected regions or those that will recover from these bushfires in the months and years to come.”
Southern Ocean Lodge, on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, has sustained significant damage by bushfire, and the property is now closed. According to Tourism Australia, the owners of this luxury lodge plan to rebuild. This property is part of the Baillie Lodges portfolio, which includes other luxury lodges located in unaffected areas such as Longitude 131, a luxury desert basecamp, near Uluru.
Selwyn Snow Resort has also been ravaged by a bushfire which tore through the Snowy Mountains. The owners of this property also vow to rebuild.
Where can travel advisors go for more information?
The Australian Government’s Bureau of Meteorology provides overall weather updates for all parts of Australia, including the latest fire weather warnings: bom.gov.au.
For specific advice, updates are available from the Rural Fire Service, National Parks and relevant State or Territory emergency services. You can find more information here: australia.com/en/facts-and-planning/useful-tips/health-and-safety-faq.html
Tourism Australia reports there has been a heartwarming outpouring of support internationally, many asking what they can do to help. For those who would like to donate, here are the organizations Tourism Australia mentioned.
Another way to support the country is by traveling there. According to Goway, “One major way to support Australia at this time is to travel to the country as planned and explore the many regions unaffected by the fires, where tourism is still open.”