This year’s bushfire season has, without a doubt, been the most widespread on record.
The nationwide death toll climbed to a devastating 25 people and six million hectares are estimated to have been lost so far with as many as half a billion animals presumed dead as their homes are engulfed in flames.
The unprecedented fires continue to touch the lives of every Australian industry and travel is certainly not immune.
Domestic tourism to take a hit
Federal Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham told The Sydney Morning Herald there was “always a risk” that widespread coverage of the bushfires would impact tourism.
“Many of Australia’s best-known tourism regions have previously faced natural disasters such as bushfires and cyclones yet bounced back in a strong demonstration of their resilience as world-class tourism destinations,” he said.
“We are monitoring the global media coverage and its impact on future bookings closely and assessing how to address the impact of this as the situation unfolds.”
Tourism Australia’s managing director Philipa Harrison said it is now more important than ever that “we rally around our communities and the tourism sector who may have been impacted”.
“Whilst bushfires continue to impact parts of Australia, many areas are unaffected and most tourism businesses are still open,” she said.
“We would encourage all travellers coming to Australia to seek the most up to date information prior to departure, and remain informed about changing conditions whilst on the ground.”
Harrison said the Australian government’s bureau of meteorology is a good starting point for visitors to stay up to date on the latest fire warnings.
Tours affected as industry rallies to offer support
AAT Kings and Inspiring Journeys managing director Matthew Cameron-Smith confirmed that the only area impacted where the companies operate guided tours is Kangaroo Island. AAT Kings has set up a travel alerts page on its website advising that all upcoming trips in Australia are still operating as scheduled however itinerary changes have been put in place for travellers visiting Sydney.
The CEO of The Travel Corporation (TTC), which owns both AAT Kings and Inspiring Journeys, John Veitch, said the company has donated $100,000 to the NSW Rural Fire Service.
“On behalf of TTC, our hearts go out to the devastating loss of life, property, and the staggering amount of wildlife and nature from the bushfire tragedy,” Veitch said.
“A huge appreciation goes out to the outstanding efforts of the NSW Rural Fire Service – the danger they put themselves in on a daily basis to protect the community and its surrounding area is heroic.”
Intrepid Travel has also been impacted in three states, with cancellations in affected areas and further cancellations anticipated.
“We are monitoring the situation closely and updating our safety page regularly for customers and agents,” Intrepid said in a statement.
Intrepid launched a campaign on Saturday to raise funds for the Red Cross, pledging to match funds donated up to $200,000. So far, $163,248 has been raised. You can go here to contribute.
“Like the rest of the country, Intrepid stands in solidarity with communities who are being directly affected and we encourage people to donate to the fund so their dollars are matched by us,” CEO James Thronton said.
Carnival Australia has also pledged $350,000 to support the Red Cross, in addition to $50,000 contributed by P&O to the St Vincent de Paul Society last year.
Entire Travel Group has kicked off a bushfire appeal, donating $20 from each booking deposited in January 2020 to Victoria’s Country Fire Authority, the NSW Rural Fire Service and Wires Wildlife Rescue.
The Lancemore hotel is also doing its part, pledging 15 per cent from every booking made using the code ‘relief’ during January 2020 will be donated to the Red Cross.
Tourism attractions go up in smoke
More than 2,500 buildings have been destroyed, including numerous tourist attractions and accommodations. Notably, Baillie Lodges has confirmed that Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island has “sustained significant damage” and all guests have been evacuated.
“Southern Ocean Lodge is now closed. It is currently too early to accurately estimate a reopening date. The Southern Ocean Lodge team will embark on contacting guests as well as travel industry partners over the coming days to make alternative arrangements for upcoming reservations,” Baillie Lodges said in a statement.
Co-creators of Southern Ocean Lodge, James and Hayley Baillie, said initial plans are already underway to rebuild the luxury property.
Bushfire warnings have been issued for the entire 440,500-hectare island, with 150,000 hectares already burned including the island’s Visitor Information Centre, Western Kl Caravan Park, Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and Kangaroo Island Wilderness Retreat.
ABC News has reported passengers on a Qantas flight received a shock when their Melbourne to Canberra flights entered a fire-generated weather system.
One passenger, Matt McIntyre, said it just got “greyer and greyer” as the plane entered the weather system known as pyrocumulus cloud.
“All of a sudden it was pitch black and the plane sort of dropped,” McIntyre told ABC News.
“There was one guy sort of swearing … I heard people down the front vomiting.”
Another passenger, Hua Tuo, said it was orange out the window “then suddenly it was black, and then the turbulence hit”.
The plane was met by emergency services upon arrival in Canberra but no passengers sustained injuries.
Cruise ships on standby
Cruise and Maritime Voyages’ Vasco da Gama cancelled its call to Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island on Saturday and was on standby to offer evacuation assistance, however, it was not required.
Cruise and Maritime Voyages said in a statement that SeaLink Ferries are on standby to assist.