PM calls for visitors to rally behind fire affected tourism operators

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called on people who have booked accommodation in locations affected by the ongoing bushfires not to ask for a refund.

“If you booked accommodation and you’re now seeking a refund, can you cut them a break,” Morrison said last week.

“Even better – why not, if you’re in a position to do so, then why not even let them keep it.”

The bushfires along the eastern coast are forecast to cost the tourism industry hundreds of millions of dollars, with almost 4300 insurance claims totalling $297 million lodged in the last eight weeks.

Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC) executive director Simon Westaway said there was “an unquestionable mounting impact on tourism from these fires”.

“The summer school holiday period is the high peak season for many of our regional and rural tourism hotspots,” he told The Guardian. “It is still too early to fully know and assess the commercial impact but it will clearly run into hundreds of millions of dollars over the near term.”

With the bushfires getting heavy coverage overseas and the US recently the upgrading its travel advisory for Australia to “level two”, warning its citizens to “exercise increased caution”, Westway was concerned visitors were being scared off.

“There’s a perception the whole country’s on fire,” he said.

“Australia has had a significant hit to our brand, even though it is a resilient brand.

“ATIC is calling on our government tourism authorities to remain vigilant and be nimble and coordinated to any perceived or real impact to future travel or a decision to defer visiting our country for fear of not being open and accessible, or what these fires may be doing to our pristine nature.

“Our industry is terribly resilient but the severity and scale of these fires and their literal strong global reporting and physical impact can’t be ignored over the ensuing period.”

Destination NSW has announced it will work alongside the state government to focus on supporting communities and businesses as they recover.

“Right now we are working with the state’s six destination networks to understand the impact of the bushfires by completing an audit of tourism infrastructure, product and experiences,” the tourism body said in a statement.

“This will further inform and guide our developing plan to promote statewide travel in NSW and in impacted areas once it is safe to do so.

“Visitors to New South Wales are encouraged to maintain their travel plans and bookings over the summer period, but should be vigilant and seek the most up to date information prior to departure.”

Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said the country was “still very much open for business”.

“There is much misinformation circulating online and in some media that exaggerates the geographical reach of these tragic bushfires,” he said in a statement.

“I urge people with a booking or considering travel to ensure they have the facts and don’t compound the harm to tourism operators by unnecessarily staying away.”