As Australia’s tourism industry prepares to take an economic hit due to the bushfires, community-driven campaigns are hoping to draw back visitors and assist businesses within affected communities.
Tourist numbers have dropped even in destinations far from the fires, with operators in towns outside fire-affected areas reporting a cancellation rate of between 10 and 60 per cent, a Victorian survey has found.
Earlier this month, the Empty Esky Instagram campaign was launched to encourage people to go on a road trip, with an empty Esky in hand.
“We started the campaign as we were noticing lots of efforts going towards ‘relief’ fundraising, however we wondered what would happen to the communities and businesses impacted once the hype had died down and the long-term rebuild began,” says Erin Boutros, who started the project with friends Eleanor Baillieu and Elise Mason.
“A lot of these businesses make up to 30 per cent of their yearly revenue over the Christmas and New Year’s period, and for those who were forced to shut their doors around this time, this has then affected the business’s ability to retain staff, invest in local suppliers, and overall generate an income to survive.
“By visiting a bushfire-affected community, we can stimulate the local economy and invest much-needed funds back into these towns, in a way that is dignified and sustainable.”
And while many areas are still at risk and should be avoided, others have reopened, eagerly anticipating visitors and in need of a healthy injection of tourism to get back on their feet.
Take the Shoalhaven region for example, along the NSW South Coast, about two hours’ drive from Sydney.
“We have had lots of businesses from the Shoalhaven [region] reach out saying they are all open and ready to welcome people into their towns,” says Boutros.
Like Queen St Eatery & Wine Bar, a stylish French bistro and wine bar, located in the small village of Berry.
“Bushfires have caused very low foot traffic in Berry, severely impacting businesses,” the Empty Esky account posted. “They have taken a massive hit, with a drop in customers since the fires started.”
And then there’s Merimbula, on the Sapphire Coast of NSW, that Sydneysiders can drive to via Canberra.
“Merimbula is another beautiful town who has missed out on all of their summer tourists,” Boutros adds. “Like The Waterfront Cafe, serving eats and treats by the water, though due to the fires, their summer trade has been virtually non-existent.”
Meanwhile in Victoria, the town of Bright, known for its rolling hills and scenic brewery trails that typically attracts thousands of visitors each summer, has been particularly hard-hit, and is currently in desperate need of tourists.
Travellers should stay informed about when it is safe to visit, as a bushfire on nearby Mount Buffalo is at advice level and not yet under control. But once visitors are ready, local businesses are stocked and ready and waiting to serve holidaymakers.
“The impact of the fire crisis has financially stung a great number of businesses in the Bright region, and will do so for many months to come,” says Boutros.
What’s more, there are countless other towns that have not been directly impacted by the fires but have still taken a heavy blow, with safety concerns resulting in cancelled holidays.
Such is the case for Corowa, nestled in the Murray region of NSW. Although there are fires to the east of Albury, Corowa is to the west.
It’s home to local business Corowa Whisky and Chocolate. “It’s an absolute must-visit during your empty Esky trip, as they run a rocky road and giant freckle-making classes, as well as locally produced whisky tastings,” the project posted.
And the same for Beechworth, a well-preserved, historical town located in the north-east of Victoria that is home to businesses such as Beechworth Honey.
With the campaign fast growing momentum, reaching over 24,000 followers on Instagram since early January, new regions, towns and businesses are being featured regularly.
“These towns have suffered huge losses at no fault of their own, and just by visiting their shops, purchasing their goods, and even just sending encouraging messages, we can make such a difference – this is what the Empty Esky campaign is all about, restoring hope to local business owners,” Boutros says.
You can help also small businesses without leaving the city. Although Swan Reach, a small town located in the east Gippsland region of Victoria, is open for normal business, a nearby bushfire is not yet under control.
Local business Seasalt Bakery is calling for donations of sourdough vouchers to local affected persons or services.
Keeping up-to-date with the latest information is crucial if you’re traveling into affected areas and have considered when it is safe to do so. Please visit the following sites for the latest bushfire information from different states and territories:
New South Wales
Australian Capital Territory
Western Australia, or www.dfes.wa.gov.au
If you‘re a Domain customer affected by the recent bushfire crisis, find out how we can help support you here.