I’m heartbroken by the devastation that the Cudlee Creek and Kangaroo Island bushfires have caused in my home state of South Australia.
The Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island have been the backdrop to my weekends and holidays countless times – I had only just returned from a memorable five days on Kangaroo Island over Christmas and New Year.
Whether it’s drinking red wine at a cosy cellar door during Winter Reds festival or waking up to an unbeatable view of a beach that’s right on my doorstep – I’ve made unforgettable and irreplaceable memories in these regions.
While I haven’t personally been affected, it’s hard not to be devastated when you’re connected to people that are impacted – who are real friends. My heart breaks for these people and places.
While I am personally feeling the pain for my friends in the sector, it’s also a big part of my professional life – this is the most challenging time we’ve seen as a tourism industry in many, many years.
Tourism in South Australia, and in particular Kangaroo Island, was surging forward with lots of great investment, sustainable practices, and new eco-friendly developments … it was exciting to see what was coming.
Even though we’ve had a setback, our industry will bounce back as it always does.
Summer in Australia is when visitation is at an all-time high – it’s also when our operators generate their peak revenue. This has been really difficult for them, especially for businesses entirely unaffected by the fires. It is only now as things have stabilised in South Australia that we can talk about recovery.
So, we’ve rolled up our sleeves, pulled our existing campaigns and moved our sole focus to bushfire recovery – everything else is on hold for now.
The impact of these fires has seen a lot of cancellations, not just for immediate travel but upcoming travel too, some as far out as the middle of the year.
Our first order of business was to address some of the misconceptions: Kangaroo Island hasn’t been burnt away, the Adelaide Hills still has stunning vineyards, and the whole of Australia is not on fire.
Yes, the bushfires happened but now it’s time to rebuild.
Having just been on Kangaroo Island, post-fire, I’ve seen the bravery and resilience of the locals. There’s hurt and pain there, but with that toughness as well. These guys want to open their Island back up to the world. Tourism is their lifeblood.
While they’ve all been fighting fires and defending their homes and businesses for weeks, tourism is what they love. And it’s our job to help them.
But this isn’t just charity. Seeing what I’ve seen in the last few days, tourists can still have an incredible holiday on Kangaroo Island “without so much as seeing a single toasted gum leaf” to quote a tourism operator.
While we have lost much, there is still so much there. We must avoid another disaster which would be if our industry and all those jobs it supports fell over.
Right now, globally the perception is “Australia is burning”. While parts of it are, and it’s horrific, large parts aren’t, and they remain as beautiful as ever. The nine other regions in South Australia are entirely as magnificent as always. Even so, we still need to support the Adelaide Hills and Kangaroo Island.
From a tourism perspective, the Adelaide Hills is now welcoming back visitation, and all our tourism operators are open. And if it’s wilderness and wildlife, food and wine, outdoor adventure and beautiful beaches that visitors are chasing, Kangaroo Island will still deliver on all those fronts.
It’s my team’s job to put out what is magical about South Australia to the world. We want people to know what is available in our regions, that it’s amazing, and has so much to offer holiday seekers.
Our industry needs us now more than ever. The bushfire recovery is the key focus for us at the South Australia Tourism Commission. We’ve been doing everything we can to make sure that we prioritise that activity.
Our tourism operators are like family to us, and we’ll make sure that they get all the support they need to do what they do best.
There is a huge task ahead to rebuild the tourism economy, and we’re here for the long haul.
Brent Hill is executive director of marketing at SA Tourism Commission.
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