Fires lick at Capes tourism

Headshot of Josh Zimmerman
Josh ZimmermanAugusta Margaret River Times
Margaret River Discovery Co operator Sean Blocksidge.
Camera IconMargaret River Discovery Co operator Sean Blocksidge.

Bookings across the Margaret River region have taken a hit amid social media misunderstandings about Australia’s recent bushfires.

Operators have reported global media attention and lack of geographic knowledge have driven a rise in cancellations from overseas visitors.

Statewide, individual operators that rely heavily on international holidaymakers — especially from Britain and Europe — have reported declines in forward bookings of up to 40 per cent, according to Tourism Council of WA chief executive Evan Hall.

“Particularly damaging have been inaccurate maps shared online and used by the media that give an impression that most of Australia is on fire when in fact well over 95 per cent of the country’s tourism destinations are not affected and remain open for business,” he said.

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Mr Hall said overseas visitors were cancelling trips that took in several States after seeing images of Sydney and Melbourne blanketed by smoke haze.

Margaret River Discovery Company owner-operator Sean Blocksidge said in the past week, US, German and British guests had cancelled.

“They had booked extended Australian holidays including the west and east coast and have cancelled the whole trip,” he said.

Mr Blocksidge agreed much of the blame lay with global reporting of the bushfire crisis, saying the “fake images that looked like all of Australia was on fire created a perception the whole country was incinerated”.

Margaret River Guest House owner-operator Debbie Noonan said the recent fires had had worse consequences for bookings than the local 2011 bushfires.

“We can only wait and see what happens with future bookings, but if airlines are reporting a drop of 30 per cent, it can only be bad,” she said.

The cancellations all came from the UK, while inquiries from other destinations including Singapore sought advice on how to drive from Perth to Margaret River safely.

The Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association said it had “received reports from a small number of operators” experiencing cancellations.

Australian Hotels Association WA chief executive Bradley Woods, who is on the board of Tourism Australia, said WA had so far been insulated from the 20 to 25 per cent downturn in bookings for the worst affected States of Victoria, New South Wales NSW and South Australia.

“Our concern would be in the longer term WA might be impacted but at this stage there is no evidence to suggest cancellations of that scale,” he said.

At the weekend, the Morrison Government unveiled a $76 million tourism rescue package to counter incorrect perceptions about the scale of the bushfires, including $25 million for international marketing and $9.5 million to be spent on junkets for overseas travel writers.

Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said part of the recovery package was to stem the “compounding of harm” in less impacted States.

WA Tourism Minister Paul Papalia said there was no indication of a decline in forward bookings in WA and that a doubling of Tourism WA’s marketing spend in 10 countries meant the State was perfectly placed to capitalise on the massive Tourism Australia campaign.

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