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Australian tourism is copping a massive hit, as the bushfires and coronavirus keep more than a third of visitors at home

Jack Derwin
  • Australia's tourism sector is under immense pressure as 35% of bookings are cancelled, according to Tourism Australia.
  • The significant downturn is a product of two consecutive crisises in the form of the Australian bushfires coupled with the coronavirus outbreak.
  • Tourism Australia is now launching a three-pronged approach to attract international and business visitors back, and encourage domestic travellers to 'see their own backyard'.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

When it rains it pours.

Not only has the disastrous bushfire season taken a fair whack out of Australia's tourism image, but now it's also now grappling with the coronavirus outbreak. In sum, the two prevailing factors have caused a 35% fall in bookings since December, according to Tourism Australia.

“We are monitoring the situation on an ongoing basis. These figures provide a snapshot compared to where we were tracking this time last year, based on travel booking data currently available to us," managing director Phillipa Harrison told Business Insider Australia.

"We have seen a significant initial sharp decline, which is expected given the magnitude of these two crises. We anticipate a sharp recovery as soon as the crisis resolves itself."

The peak body notes there has already been a significant downturn on future bookings, on top of the cancellations already registered. However, with both the bushfire season and the coronavirus still ongoing, it's difficult to quantify exactly how significant the damage to tourism will be.

A ferocious bushfire season exacerbated by drought, saw deadly fires spring up along the eastern states at the end of 2019. It was enough to force Tourism Australia to pull its much-lauded $15 million 'Matesong' campaign which enlisted the likes of Kylie Minogue and Shane Warne to bring Brits tired of Brexit over to our sunnier shores. After seeing large swathes of the country go up in flames, however, even they had to admit bureaucratic negotiations with Brussels looked more appealing.

The sprawling media coverage of the fires unsurprisingly hurt Australian tourism's image as a clean, safe, pristine destination and put billions of dollars at risk. So too does the coronavirus, a very different threat, as governments restrict travel and visitors cancel their trips and stay at home instead. Already there are an estimated 150,000 less Chinese visiting Australia.

It's led to a marketing rethink at the peak body. In an effort to stymie the decline, Australian Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham last week launched the "There's Still Nothing Like Australia' campaign, which will unveil a new global video advertisement on 12 March. Some $25 million will be spent from the government's national bushfire recovery fund to entice travellers.

Closer to home, Australians will be encouraged to stick around and pump some money into the local economy. The plea is no doubt helped by an ailing Australian dollar (which stands at an 11-year-low) as well as coronavirus dampening international sentiment more broadly. 'Holiday Here This Year' is the latest iteration of the 'recovery' campaign, encouraging "Australians to get out there and see their own backyard".

"Many Australians rely on tourism to thrive. That’s why we’re asking Aussies to get out and see this beautiful country and explore what's on your doorstep. Take a drive up the coast, head inland, fly across this vast and beautiful land," Tourism Australia said in an announcement.

Meanwhile, on the business front, it's encouraging companies to plan to 'Event Here This Year' as well.

"Whether bushfires or coronavirus, our message to Australians and the world is that Australia is safe, open and eager to welcome visitors," a spokesperson said.

While an uptick in domestic tourists may not alone be able to compensate for the growing absence of international visitors, it will go some way to relieve the pain.