As bushfires continue to rage across Queensland and New South Wales, tourism operators are counting the cost of a devastating pre-summer fire season.
Almost 150 bushfires are burning across the two states, leaving three people dead, 159 properties destroyed and thousands evacuated from their homes.
The situation prompted the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to update its travel advice to Australia this week.
“Several bushfires are currently burning across Northern New South Wales extending into the Sunshine Coast region in Queensland, with many residents advised to evacuate,” said the FCO.
“The New South Wales Rural Fire Service have advised the Greater Sydney and Greater Hunter regions will experience catastrophic fire danger on Tuesday 12 November 2019.
“This is the highest possible level of risk. For more information on Fire Danger Ratings visit the New South Wales Rural Fire Service website.
“The New South Wales Rural Fire Service has advised people in areas at risk to move to larger towns, shopping centres or facilities and to keep away from bushland areas.
“If you’re in or near an affected area, stay safe and follow the advice of local authorities: New South Wales Rural Fire Service or Queensland Fire & Emergency Services. In the event of emergency, always dial Triple Zero (000).”
While the immediate impact mean an avalanche of cancelled bookings for areas under threat, the long-term damage is also a concern.
Commenting at the state tourism awards this weekend, Queensland Tourism Industry Council CEO Daniel Gschwind “For many of our Queensland operators, this year’s severe weather events has had a serious impact on their businesses, so these awards are a reflection of the resilience and resourcefulness of all the operators and their staff in the industry.”
Fires across the Gold Coast hinterland this spring, which claimed the historic Binna Burra Lodge at Beechmont, prompted Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to urge tourists not to abandon the regions affected.
“Once the fires have gone away – we’ve still got a couple of weekends to go – but we need to run a great tourism campaign to say to everyone come back and support the region,” she told Seven’s Sunrise program last month.
Business owners in the NSW town of Tenterfield say tourism will be a critical part of the town’s recovery following severe bushfires and the ongoing drought.
Tim Dillion, licensee of the Commercial Boutique Hotel in the town’s CBD, told the ABC the accommodation side of his business has seen a number of cancellations due to recent fire dangers.
“People have concerns about coming to the region, fears for their safety, about bushfires,” he said.
“That fear is also coupled with concern for water shortages, and whether they should actually be coming to town and consuming that water.
“The local economy really relies on visitation and if there isn’t that visitation then all these small country towns are going to struggle even more than they already are.”
Tourists failing to leave fire-affected areas are also a concern in the current climate.
In the tourist mecca of the NSW Blue Mountains, the city council has warned visitors and the wider community to avoid entering bushland areas, including walking tracks, lookouts and similar, “given that any fire that starts will be uncontrollable and will spread quickly”.
The announcement follows sightings of tourists taking pictures at the Three Sisters lookout in Katoomba despite warnings to leave the area.