19 February 2009

Australian govt to give bushfire areas a tourism stimulus package

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The Australian government has promised a massive package aimed at bringing tourism back to the areas of Victoria affected by the bushfires, reports ABC News.

Earlier this month deathly bushfires ravaged parts of the Victorian state, killing hundreds of people and destroying nearly two thousand homes.  In the process, whole towns that thrived off tourism year-round were razed, quickly destroying their livelihoods.

Other parts of Victoria that rely on tourism have felt the knock-on effects of the bushfires, as international tourists have felt their holidays needed to be diverted away from the danger of the fires, even in areas that have low fire-danger.

Tourism Alliance Victoria's Anthony McIntosh says the Victorian tourism industry has already lost tens of millions of dollars in revenue because of the bushfires.

The bushfires are not the only factor affecting tourism in Victoria; and although this is not a problem unique to Victoria or indeed Australia, the state's tourism industry is feeling the effects of the global recession.

In addition to the international aid efforts currently being raised by the Red Cross and other organisations, the Government is pledging relief packages for the affected towns. 

Part of this includes $50 million supporting fire-affected businesses, with cash grants of up to $25,000 and low interest loans, and a tourism advertising campaign. 

Victorian Premier John Brumby said the package really needs to focus on rebuilding the faith in international tourists that Victoria is a safe – and great – place to visit.

"People have seen fires every night on the TV and so whether it's visitors from interstate or overseas, they've seen that," he said.

"We're going to have to spend a little bit too, just again reassuring Australians and people from overseas that Victoria's a good place to be, a great place to be and it's a safe place to be."

McIntosh says the grants would work well to help the small tourism operators and businesses come back to life in regional Victoria.

"They're carrying staff costs and other business costs at the moment without any customers," he said.

"They really need some assistance to help them trading through the next month to two months."

Now that the danger season is over for bushfires, it is hoped that international tourists would start returning their business to regional Victoria.  Most tourists to Australia would need to apply for an Australian holiday visa to visit the country.  The ETA is the most commonly applied-for Australian travel visa, and is attached electronically to one's passport.  The ETA visa allows people to visit Australia for purposes of tourism for up to three months, and is in most cases granted online in seconds.

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