Tour operators and travel agents are continuing to work together to help clients affected by the Australian bushfires as they brace themselves for a dip in sales.
Fundraising efforts by the trade are ongoing to help the destination get back on its feet, with individual agents and operators collecting donations.
The Inspiring Travel Company has had to change client itineraries to allow bookings to continue in Australia.
Senior product manager David Pointer said his team had worked with an agent whose client was staying on Lizard Island on the Great Barrier Reef and due to travel to Emirates One & Only property in Wolgan Valley, which remains closed until February 1 due to the fires.
“We liaised with the agent and moved the client to Spicers Peak Lodge [in the Gold Coast Hinterland]. The client really appreciated it,” he said.
Pointer said changes had proved straightforward in the main despite the crisis falling at the peak time for visitors over Christmas and into January.
Most tourist sites were unaffected, he said. “Although when you see the pictures of maps with fires, it looks like they cover a huge area, you have to put it in context in terms of the size of the country.
“We were fearful one of our bookings might cancel but in fact we’ve had no cancellations. Most forward bookings are for November 2020 through to January 2021 and people think it will be okay by then.”
He added: “It’s all been handled well; we’ve had daily updates from the destination management companies and the tourist board.”
Travelpack director Vishal Patel said the operator’s bookings for Australia were down on this time last year by around 20% as a result of the bushfires.
He said: “We are still getting bookings for sporting events in Australia but the uptake is not as much as a year ago. As an industry we are likely to see a slight drop in bookings.”
The operator still hopes to substantially increase its Australia sales in future and is confident the destination will continue to be popular with the UK market. “I think sales will be buoyant again. People will want to go,” added Patel.
Images on the media of the devastation caused to the destination and its wildlife have moved many in the trade to fundraise.
Companies raising funds include Scenic Group, which is donating $500,000 to provide bushfire support and relief to communities across Australia, and APT Travel Group, which has given A$100,000, while Abercrombie & Kent has pledged $100,000 AUD to support relief efforts in the destination.
A&K founder Geoffrey Kent said: “Tourism is a key industry for Australia, and at present many of the main tourist areas remain unaffected. It’s important not to abandon this incredible country in its time of need.”
Meanwhile, officials for the Australian state of Victoria this week urged tourists to visit, saying its most popular attractions were completely unaffected by the bushfires.
It named Melbourne, the Great Ocean Road, Phillip Island, the Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, Ballarat, Bendigo, the Grampians and Daylesford as among the locations that were “safe and welcoming visitors”. Many are more than 217 miles from affected communities in east and north-east Victoria.