Transcript, E&OE

Topics: $76 million to tourism industry to fill the gap created by bushfire crisis.
19 January 2020

Justin Smith:   I would say that our tourism industry is in a crisis because we probably just don’t have a full understanding of the extent of what the fires had done to tourism – people travelling domestically and then you’ve got those big bucks that are coming in from places like China, America and Europe and that money that is flooding in. I would say that we are well and truly in a crisis.

So thankfully there has been an announcement from the Morrison Government, they’re going to inject $76 million into tourism to try and get back things, get things back on an even keel. Not sure if its enough, hopefully there’ll be a little more to come. But the Tourism Minister has been good enough to give us some of his time. Simon Birmingham is on the line, hello Minister.

Simon Birmingham:     Great to be with you, thanks for having us.

Justin Smith:   I don’t think there’d be any doubt that this is a crisis for the tourism industry. Would you say that?

Simon Birmingham:     I think that is a fair summation that we have faced unprecedented global media coverage that has obviously undermined Australia’s reputation as a safe destination, as a destination of pristine environment. And so that means we’ve got to work really hard to rebuild that reputation to get people to understand that in fact the whole country is not shut down, that the vast majority of Australia is untouched by bushfire and that we’re well and truly still open for business and able to give tourists in most parts of the country the same incredible, positive experience that we’ve always prided ourselves on giving them.

Justin Smith:   And that’s not just for people overseas too, this is for people travelling inside the country too.

Simon Birmingham:     That’s right. I think Australians do have a better appreciation and the intelligence I’m getting from tourism operators and providers across the country is that the domestic travel market is holding up pretty well except for of course into those fire affected regions. But internationally we’re seeing a real decline in bookings right across the country and cancellations into completely unaffected parts. And that’s why we’ve stepped up with this $76 million government commitment to try to make sure that we super-charge domestic travel by Australians to fill some of that gap being created by international travellers and also to recover and restore those international bookings as quickly as we can.

Justin Smith:   Where do you see the people doing it tough. I mean I know it’s an incredibly big industry but is it food? Is it accommodation? Is it entertainment? Or is it just such a blanket that it covers the whole lot? Where are the big problems?

Simon Birmingham:     It really does flow right through the sector so of course and airlines are seeing a decline in bookings from some markets of 30 and 40 per cent and if that goes on for too long it potentially threatens the viability of air routes. Accommodation providers suddenly see their occupancy levels slide off and that has a flow on effect. I was talking to a laundry, a laundromat essentially on Kangaroo Island the other day and most of their business went through one or two, or came from one or two properties that have been wiped out by the fires. So suddenly you’ve got the laundromat, basically, losing a huge swathe of their business. 

So it’s yes the restaurants, the cafés, the tour operators – it hurts everyone. Obviously we have to apply slightly different strategies for those fire affected regions. We really need to intensively support them to rebuild and to clean up but also to run new events and things [indistinct] can get, particularly Australians back into those regions. But then for the rest of the country which has got the international market to truly understand that not everywhere is shut, in fact… 

Justin Smith:   Yeah.

Simon Birmingham:     …basically the vast majority you can get exactly the same experience as you could have a few months ago.

Justin Smith:   On your information, where are the tough countries? Is it throughout Asia? Is it Europe? Is it America? Or, where are the tough ones for us on this?

Simon Birmingham:     The western nations where the media coverage really reached saturation point…

Justin Smith:   Got you, yeah.

Simon Birmingham:     …where some of the misleading social media coverage, erroneous maps that gave the impression that a third, or two thirds or three quarters of the country was ablaze – they were real problems for us and have left a real impact there that we have to work to recover from. So, you can certainly see that where that social media impact was, where that media coverage was is where we’ve got the biggest task to recover.

Justin Smith:   Simon, you mentioned the laundry mat. I mean how does this- so how’s the money going to be broken up? How’s the 76 million broken up, so how would it, say, help that laundry mat, for example?

Simon Birmingham:     This is funding about making sure we get people moving across our country again. So, there are separate support mechanisms for small businesses, for farmers, for rebuilding in fire affected regions and of course, for people in terms of mental health support and the like. This package is really an investment in saving jobs, around one in 13 Australians are employed across the tourism and hospitality sectors and so, we’ve got to get people moving to be able to support the jobs, whether it’s in the laundromat, the cafe, the hotel or the tour operator. And so, it’s broken up, the $76 million –  around 30 of it to support domestic activity, getting more Australians travelling across Australia. About 10 of that to specifically fire affected regions, to run new events festivals or the like. The rest to really encourage Australians to think that over the long weekends during the course of the year, the next lot of school holidays or that break you were thinking of taking – can you do it in Australia? Can you make sure you support our industry and prop up jobs there? The remainder of the 40- other $46 million is really focused to recovering and restoring in those international markets and making sure they know that we’re open for business. And also, that we educate about not just where there weren’t fires, but also educate those international markets about the stories of regeneration of the Australian bush…

Justin Smith:   Yeah.

Simon Birmingham:     … for when the months and seasons to come, we, out of this terrible tragedy, find the positive stories to be able to tell so that people do understand that fire in Australian bushland is tragic but it’s also a natural part of the cycle and that we can find, for example, indigenous voices to help to tell that story [indistinct]thousands of years of regeneration.

Justin Smith:   [Talks over] [Indistinct]. I can see the- you know, it’s never going to be- there’s never going to be a good time or a bad time for something like this, it is just awful. But, as far as tourism goes, I mean, you’ve just had the Kylie Minogue campaign which was incredibly successful, this really did throw some water on that, didn’t it?

Simon Birmingham:     It was- look, it was very disappointing, clearly it’s a small price relative to the losses that individuals in regions have experienced. But the Tourism Australia teams, to their credit, really, I think, nailed that campaign for the UK market, it resonated really well with UK audiences. But tragically it was just overwhelmed in media coverage once the New Year period hit with the terrible images of what was happening back home and became a campaign that, obviously, needed to be recalibrated. And that’s what we’ve done in that market and elsewhere, stepped back from quite such, sunny, cheery images of Australia right now and made sure that we’re much more focused in the messaging that we’re putting out there.

Justin Smith:   [Talks over] Look, I think that- look, and one last thing, I think this is important. There was a concern about sporting grants during the week being given to marginal and targeted seats. I mean, can we have your guarantee that this $76 million will not be used in any way, shape or form like that?

Simon Birmingham:     This is very clearly structured so that it will be spent in ways that support, so firstly of those bushfire affected areas, and regardless of the political persuasions of those electorates. And then beyond that what we’re really pursuing is, of course, making sure that we partner up with states and territories and with tourism industry partners so that we actually get bookings out of the money that we’re spending. This isn’t just about saying, Australia’s a great place, it’s about promoting product, trips, to Australia or around Australia that people can pretty instantly click through and book, because it’s those bookings and that cash flow that our tourism businesses need.

Justin Smith:   I’m sure the people on the other end of it will be very grateful. Thank you very much for the chat, I appreciate it.

Simon Birmingham:     My pleasure, thank you.