NEW YORK -- Australia is open for business and wants travel
advisors to send their clients to the country. It’s the best way to help Australia
recover from recent bushfires.
That was the message of Chris Allison, Tourism Australia’s
head of commercial partnerships for North America, during a media event at
Travel Leaders Group’s headquarters here.
“2020 is definitely not starting in the way we anticipated,”
Bushfires are not a new phenomenon in Australia, he said.
Indeed, bushfires have some important impacts on local ecosystems. But this
year’s fires have been called the most devastating in decades.
There has been intense media coverage of the destruction, however
only about 3% of the country has been impacted, according to Allison. Heavy
rains in the past week have helped put out many of the fires, and those
remaining are under control.
From a tourism perspective, only “very concentrated areas”
of the country have been impacted, Allison said.
“We really need to start now getting out the positive
messages,” he said.
Tourism Australia is working to share that information with
travel advisors and travelers alike. It has published resources online,
including a map outlining the affected areas.
Now, the country is asking for support in the form of
visitors. In 2019, there were 8.7 million tourists that visited the country,
generating $45.2 billion.
“The tourism industry in Australia is a significant part of
the economy,” Allison said.
In the coming weeks, Tourism Australia will unveil a U.S.
market strategy to draw in visitors, Allison said. He is also planning a series
of briefings for travel advisors across nine U.S. markets.
“Australia is 100% open for business,” he said.
After Allison’s presentation, Nexion president Jackie
Friedman presented him with a relief donation from TLG’s nonprofit foundations,
the Altour Foundation, the Family Bonds Foundaion (of which Friedman is
president) and the Tzell and Protravel Foundation.
Travelers appear to be resilient, according to Becky Powell,
president of Protravel International. Powell said Protravel’s advisors have
received inquiries about the Australia fires but no cancellations. The agency
is keeping advisors updated on the situation with Tourism Australia’s
“People understand travel will help bring the country back,”
Also at the media event, executives gave an update on the
situation surrounding coronavirus. The virus has infected reportedly hundreds
of people in China and has spread to the U.S., where one case has been
confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lisa Wheeler, senior vice president of operations for
Altour, said the agency has had some inquiries from clients but has yet to see
a pullback in travel as a result.
All major airlines are issuing waivers for those who don’t
want to travel to the area where the first outbreak occurred, Peter Vlitas, TLG’s
senior vice president of airline relations, said.
The situation is fluid and as yet TLG has not seen an impact,
Vlitas reported. However, he did predict an impact if it continues to spread.