Analysis Australia Updates

Australian bushfire crisis: How events can help

Industry rallies to support regional communities and correct ‘misinformation’ about fire-affected areas.

The Australian Federal Government this week announced an AU$76 million (US$52 million) funding boost for Tourism Australia in an effort to rebuild tourism following the devastating bushfire crisis.

The tourism recovery package includes a $20 million ‘Holiday Here this Year’ domestic campaign (launched today), $25 million international marketing campaign, $10 million regional tourism events initiative, and increased funding support ($6.5 million) for the Australian Tourism Exchange, a B2B platform that includes business meetings, networking and familiarisation tours.

In a recent statement, Tourism Australia said: “Whilst the emergency response to the bushfires and the safety of communities and visitors in affected areas continues to be the number one priority, we know that the majority of our most popular destinations have not been affected by the fires and they need our support to get people on planes now and booking ahead for next year.

“We are working to spread the message that the best way to help Australia’s tourism industry is to still visit, whilst at the same time providing factual information as to where the risk areas are at any given time.”

While harrowing images of blackened land, burnt-out homes and singed koalas have moved many to act, it’s important to remember the sheer size and scale of Australia (it’s the world’s largest island) and that most of its meeting and incentive destinations remain unaffected.

Tourism Australia has established an online Bushfire Information resource, which provides live updates, a map that clearly outlines affected and unaffected areas, and advice on how to help.

The Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) and the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux (AACB) have also stressed that Australia remains very much open for business.

AACB CEO, Andrew Hiebl, said convention bureaus across the nation stand ready to address event queries and concerns.

“There is a lot of misinformation spreading globally about the Australian bushfires via mainstream and social media channels that needs to be addressed,” he says. “Australia’s convention bureaus are best placed to provide up-to-date business events information given they are on the ground in each state and territory with direct connection to industry operators in their respective regions.”

ATEC managing director, Peter Shelley, said the bushfires have had a severe impact on the international perception of Australia as a travel destination with a 40 per cent reduction in forward bookings from Western markets including the UK, Europe and the US and a 20 per cent overall decline. 

“Despite the fact that most of the favoured holiday spots for international visitors have been unaffected, people looking to visit Australia have been spooked,” he said.

“While this domestic campaign is a great first step, we are keenly anticipating the next stage of the recovery campaign and its focus on rebuilding brand Australia for our international audience.”

In an effort to stem the flow of cancellations, ATEC is promoting products around Australia that are ready to welcome international visitors through its social media campaign #bushfirebounceback

While there is a strong movement to support regional conferences within Australia’s domestic business events industry, international clients may be harder to convince.

Biz Events Asia has knowledge of two incentive programmes bound for Australia in coming months that have been cancelled as a result of negative perception and media hype.

No doubt there will be others, but if areas are safe (and many are), CVBs and tourism bodies are encouraging event professionals to support the effort by continuing to host events — or rescheduling rather than cancelling.

There is a lot of misinformation spreading globally about the Australian bushfires via mainstream and social media channels that needs to be addressed

Andrew Hiebl, AACB CEO

Recent rainfall across Australia has offered some reprieve, but the battle is not yet won as several fires continue to burn and the clean-up effort begins in earnest.

PCMA, this week, announced a pan-industry initiative to raise US$250,000 via its Industry Relief Fund to help those affected by the bushfires in Australia and the earthquakes in Puerto Rico.

“Doing good for people and communities in crisis is doing good for all of us,” says PCMA CEO and President, Sherrif Karamat. “The business events industry has a rich legacy of stepping up and coming together to do good when disasters strike. This is another way of demonstrating how business events can be a catalyst for economic and social transformation.”

Closer to home, AIME 2020 organisers, Talk2 Media & Events, have assured all incoming delegates that Melbourne remains unaffected and that it will be supporting the Victorian Bushfire Appeal.

Meanwhile, organisers of outbound travel trade show, Get Global, which takes place in Sydney in July, are offering five free exhibition spots to regional bureaus whose remit has been affected by bushfires.

We, as events professionals, need to spread the message far and wide that Australia is open for business.

Deanna Varga, director and founder, Mayvin Global

Australian delegates attending PCMA’s Convening Leaders in San Francisco earlier this month told Biz Events Asia that they received several messages of support from fellow attendees.  

With thoughts and prayers to those affected communities, Mayvin Global director and founder, Deanna Varga, said it’s difficult to assess the impact the bushfires will have on the industry.

“At the moment it’s a wait and see scenario because we’re still in the middle of it all, but the way we respond, as an industry, is critical. I commend Tourism Australia on their proactive response. We, as events professionals, need to spread the message far and wide that Australia is open for business.”

Similarly, Julie McGraw, managing director at GEMS Event Management, said the business events industry has “an enormous opportunity” to help communities that have been devastated by the fire.

“For those of us who are in a position to recommend venues and locations to clients, I certainly hope we can help regional areas. I will be encouraging my team to do this and look at ways to help by going back to affected areas, such as the Blue Mountains.”

She added: “No one could have predicted a crisis of such scale, but I hope this causes us all to really take stoke, and to take climate change seriously.”

If you would like to support the recovery effort, please donate to the following organisations:

• Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery
• Salvation Army Disaster Appeal 
• St Vincent de Paul Society Bushfire Appeal 
• NSW Rural Fire Service 
• SA Country Fire Service 
• Victoria Country Fire Authority 
• Victorian Bush Fire Appeal 
• Wildlife Rescue (WIRES)

Main image: The Sydney Opera House illuminated its sails with on 11 January with a moving tribute to honour Australian firefighters.