As fires ravage parts of South Australia’s Kangaroo Island and the damage starts to reveal itself, operators are begging holiday-makers not to abandon the popular tourist spot.
During a visit to the fire-ravaged regions on the island, Prime Minister Scott Morrison today pleaded with Australians not to scrap upcoming holiday plans as the island is still very much open for business.
Mr Morrison spoke to media on Wednesday, requesting that anyone contemplating asking for a holiday refund to reconsider.
“Can I also offer a request on behalf of tourism operators that have been affected: If you booked accommodation and you’re now seeking a refund, can you cut them a break?” he said.
“That’s in terms of, at the very least, the timing about when you might expect to receive a refund.
“These businesses have been hit very hard and their cash-flow positions are not going to be in a position where they’re going to be able to meet every request.
“I would particularly ask the international tourism trade industry to be mindful of that when they’re dealing with customers.”
Mr Morrison, who paid a visit to the destroyed home of a garlic farmer as well as a damaged sheep station, said it was crucial for people far and wide to continue their holidays in regions impacted by bushfires.
“Australia is open,” he said. “Australia is still a wonderful place to come and bring your family and enjoy your holidays.
“Even here on Kangaroo Island, where a third of the island has obviously been decimated – two-thirds of it is open and ready for business.
“It’s important to keep the local economies vibrant at these times.”
His plea follows comments from Governor-General David Hurley, who encouraged tourists to keep visiting parts of the country like Kangaroo Island that rely heavily on tourist dollars.
Large parts of the island’s Flinders Chase National Park were destroyed by bushfires last week.
But the island, which attracts more than 140,000 visitors each year, still has large parts that have not been damaged and continue to be open to tourists.
“Kangaroo Island is not completely closed to tourists coming back here, spending money and coming, using the facilities here,” Mr Hurley told reporters on Tuesday during his visit.
“While the primary industry income will be down, tourism can help resurrect (it).
“Get out here, put money into the tourist industry directly – that would be a good thing to do.”
So far the island fire has burned more than 155,000 hectares inside a 320-kilometre perimeter with many homes and other buildings feared lost. It has claimed two lives with outback pilot Dick Lang, 78, and his 43-year-old son Clayton Lang killed when their car became trapped by flames near Parndana.
Mr Hurley toured fire grounds in Victoria’s east earlier this week and has received a message of condolence from the Queen during Australia’s bushfire crisis.
While on Kangaroo Island he met with families affected by the bushfire and said mental health care would be a “big issue” in the aftermath.
“People are very much traumatised at the moment … they’re uncertain about what’s going to happen,” he said.
“That’s a message for people around the country – put your hand up if you need help.”
It is understood about 550 properties remain without power across the island, though several of those are likely to have been damaged or completely destroyed.
Tourism operators asked Mr Morrison to support the island and encourage spending dollars in the region.
“We need to start planning now – the best way for the regions to recover including Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills is to get people visiting and spending money again,” Mayo MP Rebekha Sharkie said during his visit.
“It will still be the best holiday of your life.”
A full damage assessment is still under way, including the loss of livestock and native wildlife. But despite the damage, almost two thirds of the island remains unaffected by the fires – a message local businesses hope reaches visitors questioning their holidays plans.
Local tour operator Chris Schumann told the ABC that some potential visitors had abandoned holiday plans as far out as April.
“We’re getting cancellations, and operators are getting cancellations, for the rest of January, February, March and April,” he said.
“If that continues for businesses on Kangaroo Island, it will be devastating.
“What we want to tell the rest of Australia, and the rest of the world because the coverage for the fires has been international, don’t abandon us, don’t cancel, come to Kangaroo Island, it’s a great experience still.
“We understand the immediate cancellations, but it’s the ones going forward that are an issue for everybody on Kangaroo Island.
“People have lost their farms, have lost their property but some of them have daughters, brothers, sisters who are working in the tourism industry.
“When you’ve got two months, or three months, of cancellations and they’re all wanting their money back, small operators cannot do that, and it has a big impact on them.”
The multimillion-dollar Southern Ocean Lodge fell victim to the blaze on Friday evening, with the guest suites and main facility of the luxury accommodation precinct destroyed by the flames.
Photos show that while the exterior of the main building of luxury accommodation at Hanson Bay remains relatively intact, its interior has been gutted and the wooden walkway used by guests reduced to ash.
The rooms – which cost between $2000 and $4800 a night per person – offer guests uninterrupted views of white-sanded beaches and the ocean. Co-owners James and Hayley Baillie have vowed to rebuild but are concerned about insurance premiums.
“It is a real concern and I think that it can be threatening to people even making a decision about whether to rebuild or not,” Mrs Baillie told The Advertiser.
“We’ve seen it in North Queensland with insurance premiums after cyclone damage and that will be the fear now (for) tourism businesses that have been affected by bushfire.”
Mr Baillie said the rebuild would take at least two years.
– with AP