Bush fires and the Visitor Economy: How prepared is NSW tourism?

Source RFS

Shared responsibility – protecting the visitor economy from bush fires (Source RFS)

Tourism in NSW is focused on doubling visitor expenditure by 2020. Much attention has been given to events/festivals and improvements to infrastructure. However, as we promote the value of the visitor economy so should we protect it. Currently tourism is vulnerable to extreme weather events and their consequences. The direct impact of recent bush fires in NSW stops the flow of tourists and their expenditure, even in areas that are not affected.  Visitor nights are perishable, lost sales cannot be recovered. Preventing bush fires and protecting tourists and tourism assets is increasingly essential if we are going to help build long-term rural community prosperity and a competitive tourism industry .

Research into NSW tourism bush fire preparedness by the International Centre for Responsible Tourism-Australia,  clearly shows a high level of awareness, but a low level of preparedness in bush fire risk management at a state, regional, community and business level, even in high risk areas. The lack of action is caused in part by resources, time and the type of tourism business.  On a destination management level responsibilities would benefit from greater clarity.

The term ‘Shared Responsibility’ has been used widely in emergency management issues in Australia since the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission (2010) publication on fire preparation, response and recovery. ‘Shared responsibility’ is the keystone of the Council of Australian Governments’ National Strategy for Disaster Resilience (2011). Preparedness is therefore not solely the role of the emergency services but also communities, tourism stakeholders, destination managers.

Part of preparedness at a grass roots level also requires clear insurance cover, guest education, responsible terms of business and stakeholder collaboration.  Since 2010 Victorian tourism has made many progressive steps to offer a more responsible tourism with regards to disaster management including establishing the Tourism Crisis Management Group between Tourism Victoria and the Victorian Tourism Industry Council. Likewise Queensland offers advice and support for disaster management.

NSW tourism would benefit from a concerted holistic preparedness programme. Part of this requires us to better engage the tourism industry to protect property, guests, staff and the very assets that attract tourists. It is recommended that tourism operators need to be incentivised to act and destination managers and industry leaders collaborate broadly with their communities (as discussed in the article below).

Failure to act leaves NSW tourism vulnerable to negative public opinion, the destructive results of bush fires (and other extreme weather events) and ultimately not ‘shared responsibility’. To double visitor expenditure requires sustainable growth strategies and risk management.


 Article: Motivating tourism to protect destinations: the gap between extreme weather threats and preparedness

ICRT Resources: Risk Management Resources

Risk Management Paper: Encouraging Rural Tourism to embrace Bush Fire Risk Management through business and visitor improvement strategies