The Australian government on Sunday announced a US$52 million (A$76 million) financial package to market the country, as the tourism industry is estimated to take a $3 billion revenue hit – a result of the extensive fires that have ravaged parts of the country.
In a press release issued over the weekend, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the situation the “biggest challenge” the country’s tourism industry has faced “in living memory.”
Morrison said that one in thirteen Australian jobs rely on tourism and hospitality, “so our $76 million investment is an urgent injection to help all those hotels, restaurants and cafes and tour operators get back on their feet. This is a make or break for many businesses and tourist hot spots and not just in those areas directly hit by the bushfires.”
On Friday, the Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) released the results of a member survey that indicated losses for individual tourism businesses and inbound tour operators ranging from US$3,443-$344,296 (A$5,000-A$500,000) as a result of cancellations. According to the Council, about half of UK, Europe, and U.S. bookings to Australia come during the December to February calendar period.
Approximately US$14 million will be dedicated to a domestic tourism marketing campaign, while another US$17 million will be for international tourism marketing, “to reinforce to global audiences that Australia is safe and open for business.”
The government said “the campaign will partner with industry to encourage direct bookings to Australian travel destinations. We will also be working extensively with international travel partners and providers to rebuild visitation or bookings lost over recent months,” the Australian government said in its media statement.
Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham, in the release, noted how “we will break from the practice of Tourism Australia exclusively focusing on international visitors and urgently kick off a local campaign because Australians are best placed to immediately understand that most of our country remains as safe to visit as ever.”
Most experts agree that months of brushfire news reports and images saturating media outside the coverage will be a significant obstacle to overcome.
“International visitors are canceling because of fears around air quality, safety and the impact fires have had on our tourism offering as well as a lack of certainty on how long it will take for us to recover, so the sooner we can communicate a strong, positive message, the better,” said ATEC’s managing director Peter Shelley, according to a Agence France Press story.
Approach will need to be ‘strong and nuanced’
Acknowledging that the perceptions shaped by media coverage will be difficult to overcome, ATEC’s Shelley said, “Our united strategy needs to be strong and nuanced, clearly defined, well-resourced and expertly executed in order to balance the swirling negative perceptions of Australia which have come off the back of the bushfires.”
Some of the challenge could be seen in the comments that tourists made on a recent Qantas Facebook airfare ad. The 15-second ad, accompanied by an upbeat look at classic Australia scenes, and backed with a jaunty tune, asked viewers: “Need a vacation? Australia is now on sale.”
The ad, for tickets purchased through midnight, Tuesday, Jan. 21, included scenes with bright blue skies, and ended asking: “What are you waiting for?”
One commenter, Ann Paterson, wrote: “I love Australia and want to support people there, but I think this advertising is tone deaf when it’s surrounded by images of catastrophe in my news feed. I think you can do better, Qantas. This lacks compassion. Honestly, it’s painful to watch for those of us grieving the devastation.”
Four commenters agreed with Paterson in the thread by midnight Sunday, while five supported marketing tourism to Australia to help the country’s economy. “What an absolutely tone-deaf advertisement,” commented Facebook user Devon Patane. “You should be focusing on helping to save your country!”
Shannon Benson called the ad “truly bad taste,” while user David Mitchum Brown wrote: “I can hardly wait to visit Australia, but this is a terrible time to be promoting tourism there, when millions of unique and iconic animals have died in the bush fires … not to mention the many human lives lost.”
“Terrible marketing – Australia burns, firefighters have lost lives, hundreds of endemic species are displaced and risk extinction, all while the Prime Minister vacations in Hawaii, what exactly are you promoting?” said Jossie Flor.
Australian Benjamin Hodson responded to Paterson: “… this ad is one of the best things Qantas can do during this catastrophe. Tourism is one of Australian [sic] greatest sources of income, and one of only a few areas of financial growth for our communities. The media coverage of the fires is expected to truly harm tourism to our beautiful country, and ads like this help to remind people that we're resilient, still beautiful, and still ready to welcome guests with open arms.”
Paterson responded to Hodgson: “I agree with the point about supporting businesses and the importance of tourism. I'll be doing my part to try to spend money in Gippsland soon. My point is not that they shouldn't encourage tourism, but rather that I wish they were doing it in a different way. I'm not an advertising expert to claim to know the best option, but I don't think this was the only approach they could have used to celebrate Australia and encourage people to visit (and I'm an expat from Melbourne, so I very much want the damaged communities to thrive).”
Ammre Ulrich supported Hodson’s comments, and wrote: “I feel like this is bad feeling for anyone who lives there, but tourism helps economies. It sucks, but it can help financially and encourage some rebuilding.”
Still others tried to point out how the fires had barely touched most of the country. Facebook user Paul Cormier wrote: “Australia is a big country, 6th largest country in the world! It's not the entire land that has burned. My daughter is on the west coast traveling and everything is fine. We are flying over to meet up with her in March and plan a few stops across this beautiful place in earth. I'm sure we will see some destruction but I'm hopeful our visit will help show some support and help some dollars back into their economy.”
Still, you could see the lasting impressions some commenters have from media reports. “What am I waiting for? The fires to stop,” commented Karl Kraber. Wrote Debra Shields: “Put out the fires first.”
Facebook user Bo Fransen commented: “Do we want to go through the smoke and burnt down areas to be the disaster tourist? Not really. Do we wanna support your country and people? Of course. But everything has a time and place and I think most people would like to give it some time to at least not end up in a disaster. We will come, just not now!”
User Glen Mac addressed Fransen’s comments: “Bo Fransen. Well, I agree about Australia being a once in a lifetime time. I went last fall and you what? I do plan to go back. It was the best trip of my life! If it were in my finances to go right now, I would. Not only to support their economy but perhaps volunteer at an animal shelter or some such. It could be the best of both worlds without feeling like you are a ‘disaster tourist.’”
Wrote Gwen McGlaun: “We need to support Australia with our tourist dollars more now than ever. While visiting, go volunteer and help with cleanup efforts between your days at the beach. Let's all be good global citizens.”