World News

Australia to lose billions as bushfires deter tourists

SYDNEY: Australia will lose billions of dollars in tourism revenue as international visitors cancel trips in droves due to bushfires raging across the country, an industry body forecast Friday (Jan 17).

The number of travellers booking visits to Australia has fallen 10 to 20 per cent since the fires began in September and the slump will cost the economy an estimated A$4.5 billion (US$3 billion) this year, the Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) said.

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"International visitors are cancelling because of fears around air quality, safety and the impact fires have had on our tourism offering as well as a lack of certainty on how long it will take for us to recover," ATEC Managing Director Peter Shelley said.

READ: Rain brings relief, flash floods in bushfire-stricken Australia

Global media have given extensive coverage to the wildfires, which have killed at least 28 people, burned an area larger than Portugal and blanketed the key tourist cities of Sydney and Melbourne in toxic smoke.

ATEC said the disaster had hit travel from the US, UK and Europe the hardest, coinciding with the December-February period which traditionally sees 50 per cent of the annual tourist bookings from those markets.

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Shelley said the industry and government need to urgently get the message out that many key tourism destinations are largely unaffected by the fires.

"There is no doubt our industry will take a hit," he said. "The sooner we can communicate a strong, positive message, the better."

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