A visit from the New Zealand prime minister to south-east Queensland has been hailed an important boost to Australia’s beleaguered tourism industry.
Jacinda Ardern, who has been holidaying with family Down Under, posed for photos and chatted with starstruck tourism business owners in the Gold Coast and Byron Bay hinterlands of Southern Queensland and Northern NSW last week.
But the presence of the New Zealand PM, who is wildly popular here, provided more than just an emotional pick-up according to Griffith Institute for Tourism director Sarah Gardiner.
“An important part of recovery after a major event is letting people know that destinations are open to visit,” she told the ABC.
“This is really important in terms of the rebuilding and getting people coming back to Australia again.
“Obviously she has got a huge following in New Zealand, and is a very popular prime minister, so I think it will get out there and people will think about the region as a place to visit.”
Tourism in the region has been slow following a protracted drought in the west and bushfires which swept through the Gold Coast hinterland and Scenic Rim in September, destroying the famous Binna Burra Lodge hotel and a smattering of other properties.
The economic impact of the ongoing bushfire crisis has been estimated by Westpac at around $5 billion. Reports of decimated tourism spending, combined with an expected fall in consumer confidence, could cost the economy between 0.2-0.5 percent of GDP growth for the first quarter of 2020, the bank’s economic experts say.
Businesses in the Tamborine Mountain area are reporting visitor numbers have not recovered following spring bushfires and Ardern’s visit to the region has buoyed hopes of a tourism resurgence.
David Wistow, the co-manager of Mason Wines North Tamborine winery, told the national broadcaster: “It has been a hard year.
“It’s extremely important now to get high-profile visitors. We have a lot to offer, but with the recent fires tourism has been in decline.
“It is nice for the public to see that the mountain is open for business and is looking green and beautiful, and any sort of advertisement like that goes a long way for businesses up here.”
And while some Aussies have expressed a preference to keep their PM and send ours back, others are eyeing the prospect of exporting one of our biggest native tourism draws to Aotearoa.
Wildlife advocacy group the Koala Relocation Society argues koalas should be relocated to New Zealand eucalyptus plantations to ensure their survival.
The bushfire crisis has claimed the lives of an estimated one billion native animals, with an estimated 25,000 of the much-loved marsupials thought to have been lost on Kangaroo Island off South Australia alone.
“Koalas are functionally extinct in Australia, and could thrive in New Zealand, as many other Australasian species do,” the group said in a statement.