Sydney, Jan 16 (IANS) Australia’s ongoing bushfire crisis has cost the nation’s tourism industry A$1 billion ($690 million), official data revealed on Thursday.
According to the data from the Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC), almost 100 per cent of bookings in some areas directly hit by the bushfires have been cancelled, reports Xinhua news agency.
More than 60 per cent of bookings in regional towns that have not been touched by fires have also been cancelled.
Tourism operators in Canberra, which has not been threatened by fires but has been blanketed in smoke, have reported a 20 per cent cancellation rate.
A vast majority of the cancellations came from Australians choosing to stay home, with international visitors so far keeping their plans.
However, industry experts have warned that Australia’s reputation as a destination for international visitors will take a hit due to the bushfires.
Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham, who will meet tourism industry senior members on Thursday, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the government “stands ready” to help the industry recover.
“We’ll be updating the tourism industry on what we’re doing to correct the misinformation that is out there about the geographical reach of these bushfires and also the targeted activity that is continuing to make sure the world knows Australia is still open for business and that we want tourists to visit,” he said.
“We’ll also be telling the industry that the government stands ready to help our tourism industry to not only rebuild infrastructure where required but to continue to promote the incredible tourism experiences that are still on offer across Australia in unaffected areas but also in fire-affected areas when it is safe to welcome tourists again.”
The bushfires have so far claimed the lives of 28 people and billions of animals since it first erupted last September.
Rain and cooler temperatures in recent days have helped firefighters contain the dozens of active blazes in Victoria and New South Wales, the most-affected state, where 20 casualties have been recorded.
The fires have also destroyed more than 80,000 sq.km, an area larger than Ireland or Panama, charring more than 2,000 houses.