Bushfires have been a regular reality for millions of years in Australia. For a continent of such large size, bushfires have over the centuries significantly shaped the nature of flora and the ecosystem. Typically, the primary cause of bushfires is contributed to extremely high temperatures, low humidity, high wind and presence of dry land. In recent modern times, deliberate arson and human carelessness has often started the fires around the country. It is to note that Eastern Australia is one of the most fire-prone regions of the world.
The modern Australian society has been built around the reality of bushfires. Whilst, the fires cannot necessarily be stopped, there have been measures put in place to help stop the spread. One of the measures to stop bushfires getting out of hand is ‘controlled burn’. Country Fire Services, the farmers and other agencies would choose high-risk dry areas and deliberately burn it just before the summer season so that there’s no fuel (dry leaves and trees) for fire should the temperature soar with heavy winds.
In the recent recorded history, there have been over 40 incidents of ‘major bush fires’ causing fatalities. This figure does not include the incidents where millions of hectares were burnt however without a human fatality. Apart from the current bush fires in Australia, the last horrific incident was ‘Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria in 2009 which saw 173 people lose their lives and over 1100,000 acres of area burnt.
September of 2019, however, saw the start of several uncontrolled bush fires across different states, sometimes joining to become mega-fires. So far, it has taken 35 lives, however, an unprecedented 1 billion wildlife was lost. Whilst the fires are still out there, the cool change in climate and substantial rainfall across the east and south-east has certainly helped keep the fires under control.
When a nation loses an area bigger than the size of Belgium to wildfires, it has severe economic implications. The bushfires have brutally impacted the economy across many sectors, tourism and hospitality being one of them. The majority of the regions affected by the bush fires relied heavily on tourism and hospitality.
Both domestic and international travellers have frequented areas such as Kangaroo Island (SA) Gippsland (Vic), Lakes Entrance (Vic), Alpine high country (Vic), Blue Mountains (NSW), etc. Within a matter of one-month, small businesses such as local accommodation, wine, cattle farms, restaurants etc. have been wiped off the face of the planet. The follow-on effect of the bushfire was seen across hotel and general hospitality sector in urban Australia, as international tourists from the US, UK, Europe, Japan & China either cancelled their trips or diverted to NZ.
A catastrophe of such nature witnessed phenomenal support from communities across the country. Never before have communities on such large scale, came together to assist the bush fire affected areas. Whilst, the solidarity of Aussies seen on this occasion deserved its own write-up, it’s important to understand what has been done by the hospitality sector and for the hospitality sector.
In the midst of the fires, practically all hotel groups started donating amenities such as toiletries, dental kits, toilet paper, linen, etc. to thousands of homeless people needing supplies to survive in community centres. As per an article published by Matt Lennon on Jan 17, 2020, there was an outstanding contribution from within the hospitality and tourism sector to help support these communities.
See below some of the contributions as highlighted by Matt in his article:
- AHA (Australian Hotels Association) New South Wales, in partnership with Tourism Accommodation Australia, has donated $250,000 to the Vinnies Bushfire Appeal on behalf of hotel members across both its pubs and accommodation hotel
- Hilton Worldwide donated $50,000 USD to the Salvation Army, aiming to reach $100,000 USD.
- Lancemore Hotels has pledged to donate 15% from each booking made throughout January with the codeword ‘relief’ to the Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery.
- Shangri-La Hotel Sydney is offering complimentary accommodation for families and individuals who have lost their homes.
- Marriott International has pledged to donate free room nights for fire service volunteers and departments nationwide
- A donation of $30,000 has been submitted by Wyndham Destinations Asia Pacific, along with free holidays at Mt Hotham – Dinner Plain to CFA volunteer firefighters, who have spent significant amounts of time fighting blazes in the Victorian High Country
- On top of a $25,000 donation to the Australian Red Cross, Pan Pacific Hotels Group has also stepped in to help with tangible items, with PARKROYAL Melbourne Airport sending shipments of toilet paper, dental kits and coffee cups to a number of charitable organisations working with affected areas to expedite their recovery.
Apart from the above, Tourism Australia launched a new $20 million advertising campaign called ‘Holiday here this year’ with #Holidayherethisyear. This campaign is not only to invite the international tourists back but also to encourage domestic tourism which typically visits Bali, Thailand or Fiji instead of holiday in their backyard. SA tourism started a campaign #Bookthemout to encourage communities to visit the bushfire affected areas and provide business.
Whilst the nation acknowledges the outpour of global support, donations and genuine love being sent, it’s time for the international tourists to return. For all the travel agents, tour operators, and travellers, Australia is open for business and looks forward to looking after her guests. By visiting the bushfire-prone areas, you will give the businesses the opportunity to function and get back on track.
Whilst, the full scale of impact of the bushfires has not been fully determined, it’s safe to say that it will take years to rebuild the affected communities. However, if the Aussies continue to stand together as ‘mates’ as they always have and follow through with the initiatives, there’s light at the end of the tunnel.