Australia tourism reaches out to U.S. during bushfire crisis

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Nexion president Jackie Friedman presents a check for the Australian Red Cross to Chris Allison, Tourism Australia’s head of commercial partnerships for North America, to assist in bushfire relief efforts.
Nexion president Jackie Friedman presents a check for the Australian Red Cross to Chris Allison, Tourism Australia’s head of commercial partnerships for North America, to assist in bushfire relief efforts. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

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,” Allison said.

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 resources.

“People understand travel will help bring the country back,” Powell said.

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.

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