Transcript, E&OE

Topics: Funding for tourism operators affected by the bushfires.
19 January 2020

Darren James: Joining us on the line now is the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Senator Simon Birmingham. Senator, good morning.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning guys, thanks for the opportunity to speak.

Heidi Murphy: Senator, the Prime Minister’s called this the biggest challenge to our tourism industry in recent memory. Does that sound right?

Simon Birmingham: Yes, absolutely. What we’ve seen, as you’ve just been discussing, the widespread global media coverage of these bushfires and the fact that in many instances some of that coverage and especially some of the maps circulating online have been misleading and implied that the whole country is affected by these fires or nearly all of the country, is creating a real challenge in terms of massive cancellations of bookings, a huge downturn in bookings. International flights to Australia being booked out of some of our key markets like the United States are down in the order of 30 or 40 per cent at present. And so that of course is having an impact not just on businesses in the fire affected regions but also for tourism businesses the length and breadth of our great land.

Nick McCallum: But Minister it’s a tight-rope you walk isn’t it? Because there certainly several areas that you don’t want tourists to go and sadly they probably won’t be welcome until the end of the fire season – obviously big swathes of New South Wales and also the far east of Victoria. So it’s a tight rope you walk, isn’t it?

Simon Birmingham: Safety has to remain the number one priority. So we certainly continue to urge people, if they’re going close to fire affected regions, to make sure they follow local safety instructions. But we do need to make sure that our international visitors understand that Australia is very much open for business, that if you were planning a trip to Tropical North Queensland, if you’re planning a trip to the Australian Open, if you’re planning a trip to Melbourne or Margaret River in WA, you should absolutely still come, still enjoy the same type of great hospitality and amazing experience that we’ve long prided ourselves on giving visitors.

Nick McCallum: And Minister I can understand that working domestically, certainly. Because obviously people in Australia know the differences. But is it hard when you’re in America or in Europe and you don’t really know the differences, you just see Australia as one big country and you watch the news and you see there are parts of it on fire, I should steer clear until it’s over? They don’t understand the differences between Northern Queensland and Far Western Australia.

Simon Birmingham: That’s why the step-up we’re announcing today, the Federal Government, $76 million in investment in supporting our tourism industry is partly domestic, partly targeted to the Australian market and partly international. So there’s $30 million, $10 million of which is dedicated to fire-affected regions to be able to put on new events, activities, other programs so that we can try to make sure that they understand and have the chance to get people back into those regions, a nationwide $20 million domestic campaign that will really be about encouraging Australians to think about taking that holiday at home this year, to think about booking for a long weekend stay or a future school holiday stay during the course of the year and creating the back-fill in a sense, if you like, of getting more Australians making more bookings at home to overcome this international downturn. Then of course we’re going to invest carefully across our international markets to make sure the message is clear that we are still open for business, that we tell the story as well of recovery and regeneration. Many of us in Australia appreciate that when fire strikes bush settings, when that recovery happens following rains and so on it actually can become quite a spectacular scene. There’s an amazing story that our Indigenous peoples have been telling for thousands of years about the recovery of bush settings and we have to make sure that as we build our reputation globally we tell those positive stories, honestly, truthfully, but get the message out importantly that we are very much open for business, we are still a safe place to visit and that people can still have a cracking good time when they come here.

Darren James: Simon, could I just ask: When the bushfire situation went as badly as it did, you pulled the commercials featuring Kylie Minogue mainly in the UK market. When will they return, do you know?

Simon Birmingham: Well look, we have to assess every market as we go, so we’re not completely off the air in international markets at present. But the tone and nature of what’s being highlighted obviously has changed to deal with the different circumstances that are there. In terms of the campaigns to be run in the UK we’ll have to do appropriate research over the next weeks and months to work out just what message is going to resonate best around that open for business, safe destination, still providing a great time type messaging. And make sure, though, that it is appropriately calibrated to the images that people have seen of the fires and the devastation as well.

Nick McCallum: And Minister, one part of the package which may rankle is that you’re spending $10 million paying people who are worth millions to come to Australia and let the message come out through their publicity, either through social media or regular media. I mean, that will rankle with a lot of people, won’t it? That you’re paying in many cases multi-millionaires to come here?

Simon Birmingham: In the vast majority of cases that $10 million for international media visitation and so on will be just that. There will be news programs, journalists, TV programs that we get to come and film here and actually project images back around the world. It’s not the focus on celebrities that I notice some of the newspapers have given. Sometimes, though, there is a case to use those people who can get huge penetration in social media. We know that a lot of damage that’s being done to our tourism industry reputation at present is due to misleading maps and things that have circulated online. So we need to be able to counter that. For example in the Indian market we’ve had great success by occasionally using cricketers who have fanatical followings in India, not paying for all aspects of their travel or paying them necessarily but helping structure programs that target their travels around Australia and project positive images back to millions of possible followers.

Heidi Murphy: So some of the funding will go towards those social media influencers but not the entire $10 million, you’re saying?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we have to deal with the reality of modern communications. We can’t just say we’re going to spend it all on television or radio. We have to absolutely play in the online space. And as I say we do have to make sure that we overcome some of those misleading maps that suggest…

Heidi Murphy: So yes, some of it will be spent on social media, yes? Social influencers?

Simon Birmingham: Some of it will absolutely be spent on social media, some of it may be spent on influencers. But again, we’re going to seek, first and foremost to leverage the goodwill that many of those people have shown already. We’ve seen big donations for bushfire appeals coming from those type of influencers. So first and foremost where people are already doing concerts in Australia or travelling to Australia we’ll be seeking to leverage their goodwill, and that doesn’t mean paying them, that just means structuring programs that make sure we get their help to project good images of Australian tourism back to people who potentially come out here. It’s important to remember in all this that one in 13 Australian jobs are in some way tourism or hospitality dependent. So this package is all about job saving. Yes it’s a tourism package but we’re only doing this because we want to make sure that we keep Australian small businesses on their feet in fire-affected regions and tourism dependent regions and in doing so we keep people employed in those small businesses.

Darren James: Senator we thank you for your time on a Sunday morning.

Simon Birmingham: My pleasure, thank you.