Bushfires fan tourism fears as visitors cancel bookings

Margaret River Discover Co owner operator Sean Blocksidge expressed frustration last week, with three tour bookings cancelled in a matter of days due to international visitors postponing their Australian travel plans. Photo: margaretriver.com
Margaret River Discover Co owner operator Sean Blocksidge expressed frustration last week, with three tour bookings cancelled in a matter of days due to international visitors postponing their Australian travel plans. Photo: margaretriver.com

Margaret River region tour operators are cautiously watching their bookings as the world continues to follow the ongoing bushfire crisis raging on the east coast.

Margaret River Discover Co owner operator Sean Blocksidge expressed frustration last week, with three tour bookings cancelled in a matter of days due to international visitors postponing their Australian travel plans.

"I totally understand why people are cancelling if they have extended trips planned to various bushfire affected locations," said Mr Blocksidge in a Facebook post on January 15.

"The maps of fire that were shared internationally on social and the media outlets looked like the entire country was on fire. And that unfortunately seems to be the impression some of the international travellers have."

The award-winning tour operator said while the fires were at an unprecedented scale, it was important for people to understand the size of the country.

"[It is] a genuine catastrophe for the people and environment affected, but I think it's important for people to understand Australia is a huge country and the vast majority of it was unaffected by fire.

"Most of the iconic tourism destinations are totally fine, Margaret River and Western Australia are particularly fine."

WA Minister for Tourism Paul Papalia said there was no indication of a decline in forward bookings in the WA market.

"Just last week Tourism WA and I met with the second largest online travel agency in the world, trip.com, and they advised that the forward bookings to Western Australia were not only stable, but that WA was leading all other States in that area," said Mr Papalia.

The Minister said work was being undertaken by the state government and Tourism WA to reduce the damage from international news coverage. We are working hard to ensure we limit the spread of misinformation about WA's situation.

"Throughout the bushfire crisis Tourism WA has been working hard to ensure our industry partners and international offices are advising our key markets that Western Australia is unaffected by the bushfires and all major tourism destinations remain open for business.

"Further, Western Australia's recent marketing strategies have actively differentiated the State from the rest of the country as the new 'western gateway' to Australia - meaning international tourists are more likely to have an understanding of WA's situation compared to the rest of the country."

Mr Papalia said recent tourism figures suggested tourism growth would continue.

"Tourism WA has doubled its international marketing efforts to sell Western Australia in markets such as USA, UK and Europe and Asia.

"The recent visitation statistics show that this is having a positive impact, with the State recently recording its highest-ever visitor numbers and spending.

"This success shows the State Government's two-year action plan is working, and we will continue our efforts to drive visitation to support small business, the tourism industry and local jobs in the South West and other tourism hotspots.

"Tourism WA will be working with Tourism Australia to support the new domestic campaign to encourage Australians to holiday at home and in Western Australia.

"We understand further details around this campaign will be forthcoming shortly."

The Tourism Council of WA said the announcement on Sunday by Prime Minister Scott Morrison of a $76 million Federal tourism recovery package would assist WA tourism operators, who have reported cancellations and a drop in forward bookings from international visitors.

Tourism Council WA CEO Evan Hall said worldwide media coverage of bushfires and haze had affected the country's reputation, which was also impacting WA businesses.

"The funding for international marketing included in today's announcement is particularly important for regional areas like Broome & the Kimberley and Margaret River, which attract large numbers of international visitors," he said.

"The funding for international marketing included in today's announcement is particularly important for regional areas like Broome & the Kimberley and Margaret River, which attract large numbers of international visitors," he said.

The package includes $20 million for domestic marketing and $25 million for international marketing to send the message that Australia is open for business and $10 million for regional tourism events and projects in bushfire-affected areas.

A further $9.5 million has been allocated for media familiarisation trips; $6.5 million to incentivise businesses to attend the 2020 Australian Tourism Exchange; and $5 million to enhance Australian tourism through diplomatic means.

"This package will benefit all WA tourism operators, and the industry will work closely with Tourism Australia and Tourism Western Australia to showcase Western Australia to travel media and send the message that we are open for business and have luckily escaped the devastation affecting some destinations," Mr Hall said.

"Along with the whole industry, Tourism Council WA expresses our sympathy to the worst affected regional communities. When the time is right, the best thing people can do to help communities recover is to visit these destinations and spend money in support of our fellow Australians."