Transcript, E&OE

Topics: Tourism industry.
14 January 2020

Luke Grant: An Australian travel warning issued to US citizens has been downgraded. The alert level was, last week, upgraded to level 2 amid dangerous bushfires and concerns over air quality. It’s understood the Prime Minister was in direct contact with senior levels of the Trump administration to get that warning relaxed. There were grave fears over the alleged possible impact on the Australian tourism industry. And as we’re telling you, because we’re being told by the people that know, South Coast open for business – there’ll be other parts of Australia with a similar message. We’ve got to get people back into those areas so they can spend dollars and help them get through this. So, well done, PM, on this.

Let’s get to the Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Senator Simon Birmingham, who joins me on the line.

Senator, good afternoon.

Simon Birmingham: Hello, Luke, Thanks for the opportunity to have a chat.

Luke Grant: Not at all. Good to chat again, Simon. This is good news, isn’t it? I assume it’s because the PM was able to speak to either the President or some people very high up.

Simon Birmingham: Well, it is a bit of a relief in the sense that the United States has corrected some of the anomalies and fixed some of the language in relation to their travel advisory. And yes, the PM was in touch with the Secretary of the State of the United States at the back end of last week and spoke to the United States Vice President Mike Pence over the weekend. So, his direct advocacy really helped to make sure that the highest levels of US Government, they knew that Australia was concerned and that we wanted to make sure that where this advisory is given, the information is accurate. Inaccurate information, misleading maps, and some of the rubbish that’s spreading online is, of course, hurting our tourism industry, not just in the fire affected regions but right across the country, and we’re very cognizant of the need to support the industry across the nation to make sure that unnecessary harm is not incurred; and that people know that Australia is well and truly open for business, that most of the country is unaffected by bushfire; and that people can still come and have the type of amazing holiday experience that sustain so many jobs in Australia [indistinct].

Luke Grant: Minister, were we able to tell- were there any indications, that in fact there were significant cancellations, people had already planned to travel here, had heard the advice and thought: we’d better not be going there?

Simon Birmingham: Luke, the widespread international media coverage of the bushfires is having an impact, regardless, in the sense of these additional government warnings in other nations. So I have anecdotal evidence from right across the country of cancellations and that’s disappointing, annoying, frustrating when you hear of cancellations happening in Central Australia, Queensland, Western Australia, areas that are largely having standard Australian summers and aren’t suffering through the type of tragedy that has hit large parts of New South Wales and Victoria and SA. And so, it really is important that we try to get factual information out there. Tourism Australia put new information on their web page. We’re deploying our international officers through our Embassy, the High Commission, our tourism representatives to really make sure that wholesale tourism, trade and travel operators around the world understand the facts, know where they can get factual information, know that the country is open for business. We’re continuing, in a targeted and tactical way, with campaign activity across a number of our key tourism markets to make sure that we get the right messages out. And importantly, we are looking at the type of additional campaign that we will have to run both to support states like Western Australia, who, as I say, are largely unaffected this summer, and to make sure that people know that there is nothing that prevents them travelling there. But also, of course, to make sure that in New South Wales, Sydney, the nation’s prime gateway entry point for international tourists, that people know, again, that they will be safe, that they will have an amazing time and that, indeed, if they are concerned and they want to help with the recovery in fire-affected regions in Australia, well, the best thing you can do is to make a booking when it’s safe to do so and to help those small businesses stand on their own two feet again in the future.

Luke Grant: You know, you make a very good point there about what was circulated. And we know that in some instances, there were maps of Australia that effectively looked like the whole country was on fire, and subsequently, we learn that was a collection of every fire ever recorded and it was on the map at one time but it was- it did paint a horrific image to anyone who might be on social media and might, at some point, be contemplating a trip to the country. That can be very damaging. It must be both expensive and difficult to combat some of that misreported stuff on social media.

Simon Birmingham: It will be expensive and challenging and it will take time and will take education as well. We’ll have to look at how it is you make sure that news outlets don’t just report the catastrophe of the fires but also report the recovery that come. So, many of us who have seen fire affected regions before, particularly in Australian bush wildlife settings, know that that regeneration, as the green shoots come back, can be incredible to see and experience, and the resilience of, not just the Australian people, but of the Australian outback bush is incredible. And though these are extreme fires, unprecedented in recent times in parts of the country, we know that people will bounce back. We just have to make sure that the international reputation and understanding is based on fact and that people continue to know that there are incredible experiences for them to enjoy; that they really ought to support those tourist businesses right across the length and breadth of this country. Otherwise, to not do so, will just be to compound the harms and difficulties that these fires have caused.

Luke Grant: Yeah, you’re right. Appreciate your time, Simon, very much. Thank you so much.

Simon Birmingham: My pleasure, Luke. Thank you.

Luke Grant: Good on you.

Senator Simon Birmingham, Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment.

Yeah. Some of those clowns that took to social media and just made the fire situation appear so much worse than what it already was. And it was terrible. We know that. You know, it’s the impacts of social media posting- we talked about that to some extent yesterday, but boy, oh, boy.