Tourism Australia provides bushfire updates

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Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia's Northern Territory has not been impacted by the bushfires.
Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia's Northern Territory has not been impacted by the bushfires.

NEW YORK -- Although Australia's bushfires have "abated significantly" thanks to firefighters' efforts and recent rains, the country's tourism industry will need the U.S. travel industry's help with recovery as well as with "debunking the myths" about the fires' impact on its landscape, representatives from Australia said during an informational session for travel consortia and media.

During the first of three sessions held at the Australian Consulate in New York on Feb. 11, Jane Whitehead, Tourism Australia's vice president for the Americas, discussed how the organization has had to adjust its approach in the wake of the fires. For instance, whereas typically Tourism Australia's focus is on the country's international markets, $20 million (about $13 million U.S.) of the Australian government's tourism recovery fund is going toward a "Holiday Here This Year" campaign to encourage domestic travel.

And internationally, Tourism Australia is amending its current campaign slogan to reassure visitors that "There's Still Nothing Like Australia."

"Many parts of Australia have not been touched by the fires," Whitehead said. "We want to support the communities that have been affected in their recovery; we also want to make sure people aren't unnecessarily canceling visits to those places that aren't affected."

Whitehead and others encouraged attendees to visit Australia.com's landing page for bushfire information, which includes a regularly updated map illustrating the affected areas.  

Another aspect of the recovery effort is disputing what Whitehead described as "liberties taken on social media" with maps that she said fueled misconceptions about the scale of the fires. 

Putting the extent of the fires' damage in perspective, Craig Wickham, a tour guide with Exceptional Kangaroo Island and Australian Wildlife Journeys, noted that the continental U.S. and Australia are comparable in size, and the affected area was roughly the size of Indiana. 

Over the next few months, Tourism Australia will also ramp up its hosting of fams and media trips so visitors can see recovery efforts firsthand.

"The best way people can help now is to get on a plane and come visit," Whitehead said.

New York was the ninth stop on an 11-city tour of North America, which will wrap up with events in Boston on Feb. 13 and San Francisco on Feb. 19. 

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