Millions, if not eventually billions, of dollars in relief funds are gradually heading to the victims of Australia's bushfire disaster, including our devastated and threatened native wildlife. But the key to the recovery for many communities also lies in the human factor, and one of the surest paths to this will be through travel.
"People have been extraordinarily generous but the best donation they can give a community is booking a hotel," says Dean Long, chief executive of the Accommodation Association of Australia.
"Usually, these townships and regions are full at this time of year, which gives them the income to survive the rest of the year. But now it's frightening to see how quiet they are; even areas that haven't been touched by the bushfires.
"So we're calling on people to return to those areas, have a great time and give back to the local economy. Communities are willing and eager to welcome tourists back."
That plea is being made not only by the towns and settlements in the frontline of the fires, but also by those overseeing the $150 billion tourism industry, a crucial and often overlooked contributor to Australia's GDP and economic wellbeing.
While travellers are advised to check the latest fire updates in certain regions, they're also being urged to travel domestically where they can.
"The bushfires have been an absolute tragedy but it's imperative now that people are encouraged and stimulated to return to many of these areas," says Simon Westaway, executive director of the Australian Tourism Industry Council.
"Many of these places rely on tourism, and that's been doing very well in recent years. But with some having had 100 per cent cancellations, and those areas not even affected having 60 per cent cancellations, we all need to make sure we're doing as much as we can to close the gap."
Today in Australia, more than 660,000 people, or more than 5.2 per cent of the workforce, depend on tourism for their livelihood. This is considerably more than the 238,000 workers employed in the mining industry.
"If a lot of these local businesses don't see any cash flow in the next few weeks, they won't be there in a few weeks," says Margy Osmond, chief executive, Tourism and Transport Forum. "This is a real opportunity to celebrate Australia, our survival, and what a wonderful country we have. I think people want to contribute and make a difference, and by visiting their own country, they can help and, along the way, get a real sense of what it is to be Australian."
Traveller is making its own contribution to the disaster with this cover story consisting of 50 ways travellers can help in the relief effort, beyond making still vital cash donations.
DON'T JUST CANCEL YOUR DOMESTIC HOLIDAY: RESCHEDULE OR GIFT IT
If you've had to cancel your holiday in an affected area, reschedule it to a later date rather than ask for a refund. Better still, tell the operator to keep the money, and you'll make a new booking later.
DO WHAT YOU CAN TO REASSURE THE WORLD THAT IT'S OKAY TO VISIT
Calm the fear frenzy. Overseas visitors holidaying in Australia over Christmas from Europe are being bombarded with messages from family and friends asking if they can be airlifted out of a blazing Sydney.
CONSIDER SWITCHING THAT NEXT OVERSEAS HOLIDAY WITH AN AUSTRALIAN ONE
We tend to save Australia for last – for when we're "grey nomads" - but it's much better to explore when you are younger and fitter so you can climb to the top of those Kakadu hills, scramble around The Kimberley and hike along the Larapinta Track.
IF YOU MUST HOLIDAY OVERSEAS THIS YEAR, STAY ONE OR TWO FEWER NIGHTS
Do you really need that 10th night in Bali or Fiji? Aim to spend that spare night or two on a weekend away or on a short break in regional Australia. There's no better way to inject that holiday mood into more of your year.
LEAVE SOME ESSENTIALS AT HOME ON YOUR DOMESTIC HOLIDAY
Buy them at your destination – everything from swimwear to underwear, sunhats to shampoo, thermals to thongs.
FROM THE FRONTLINE
HAYLEY BAILLIE, CO-OWNER OF BAILLIE LUXURY LODGES
Capella at Lord Howe Photo: Nathan Dyer
"The best way to help is to travel in Australia, now. Thousands of small, medium and family businesses that give Australian tourism its unique character are operating as usual. They are the lifeblood of regional Australia and the key to extraordinary, diverse experiences across our island continent. Now more than ever we need to rally together and discover Australia's diverse destinations."
Baillie Lodges' Southern Ocean Lodge was destroyed in the Kangaroo Island fires but they plan to rebuild. Baillie's Longitude 131, Uluru, and Capella on Lord Howe Island lodges remain fully operational. See baillielodges.com.au
TAKE A CRUISE
Princess Cruises' 2000-guest Sun Princess.
Put your cruise scepticism, if you're prone to it, aside and consider taking a cruise for the sake of the nation. Cruising around Australia has become a popular pastime for Australians and overseas visitors with many cities and towns benefiting enormously from the economic stimulus ship visits provide. A week ago, Princess Cruises' Sun Princess vessel became the first cruise ship to visit Kangaroo Island since its destructive fires. See princess.com
VISIT A FIRE-HIT COUNTRY TOWN AND SHOUT THE BAR A DRINK
What could be a more authentically Australian expression of mateship and empathy?
DO A DOROTHEA AND TRY AND APPRECIATE THE "BEAUTY AND THE TERROR" OF THE "WIDE BROWN LAND"
When Dorothea Mackellar wrote My Country in 1908 with the immortal line "I love a sunburnt country …", expressing her love for its "beauty" and its "terror" it was an early appeal for all Australians to be proud of that red dust, those sweeping plains and ragged mountain ranges. The beauty of our natural environment is still there to see, it's just been scorched by more than merely a harsh sun.
BOOK A TRIP TO A BUSHFIRE-AFFECTED REGION IN THE OFF-SEASON
Lower your high-season expectations. There can be great walking in the high country when there's no snow, Kakadu in the Top End is greener than green during the wet season and Daylesford, Victoria, is so cosy in winter.
TAKE A STAYCATION AT A CITY HOTEL
It's not only the regional Australian tourism industry that's affected by the fires, thanks tothe fall ininternational visitors as result of the damage to our international image. Why not help take up the slack with a stay in a good hotel in the city? There are some great prices around now, and it's a wonderful opportunity to be a tourist in your own town.
FROM THE FRONTLINE
CHRISTIAN DAL ZOTTO, DAL ZOTTO WINES, KING VALLEY, NORTH-EAST VICTORIA
"People need to know it's okay to venture back into our region and everything is now back open. Be a part of that, and spend some money with our local businesses. We've got our King Valley Prosecco Road experiences, like our Pedal 2 Prosecco where you follow our map to bicycle from cellar door to cellar door in the upper King Valley, our Yoga in the Vines and our event where you come and pick your own grapes, see the wine being made and then take bottles home with you."
ORDER WINE FROM A BUSHFIRE-AFFECTED REGION WHEN YOU NEXT DINE OUT
Double check that wine list for a fabulous prosecco from the King Valley, a full-bodied white from the Hunter Valley and a cheeky red from Hahndorf. You might make a great discovery that will change your order forever more.
VISIT A WILDLIFE RESCUE CHARITY
It's no longer okay to cuddle koalas, as much as we may feel inclined to do so during this crisis. But you can support great work being done to preserve them. Visit a place like NSW's Port Macquarie Koala Hospital. See koalahospital.org.au
ADOPT AN INJURED NATIVE ANIMAL
Help our dedicated animal rescuers and carers by adopting a koala online. The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has a range of gorgeous photos of koalas in need. Adoption can help in the preservation of what may now be an endangered species.
WHEN YOU VISIT A FIRE-RAVAGED REGION TURN IT INTO A SHOPPING EXPEDITION
Pack light and treat yourself to new clothes, check out the local homewares or antiques shops for a fresh makeover for your home, buy presents for friends, take back lots of wine, craft beers and produce from the region. And take a look at emptyesky.com.au a movement of foodies and adventurers supporting local businesses affected by the bushfires.
POST BEAUTIFUL IMAGES OF AUSTRALIA ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Wherever you go, even if it's just to a bar by the harbour in Sydney or a sporting event in Melbourne, pop a great photo on Facebook and Instagram, tell everyone what a great time (it'll be completely true, after all) you're having and retweet others' lovely images of Australia.
FROM THE FRONTLINE
JOSH WATERSON, DIRECTOR, REGION X, BATEMANS BAY, NSW
"Our beaches, cafes, restaurants and major attractions are all open and it's nowhere near as busy as usual this time of year so you won't have to queue for anything. If people don't come, there could be a lot of businesses that won't last, especially if they have loans to service."
Region X operates tours, trips and hires along the NSW South Coast. See regionx.com.au
COUNTER GLOBAL FAKE NEWS ON THE FIRES
Call out that fake news whenever it occurs on every social media channel. Some of the most devastating images of the bushfires aren't real, with an image of a little girl fleeing an inferno clutching a koala being a photoshopped falsie, and an artwork showing the whole of the country in flames being labelled "a NASA photograph".
HIT THE ROAD
Always fancied a roadtrip? There's no better time to take the car for a long drive, or rent a van, especially if you visit affected areas and stay a night or two in a local hotel or motel on each stop. Melbourne's Zoe Manderson has set up the website roadtripforgood.org.au to help plan trips to regional areas. It shows where cafes, restaurants, hotels and shops are open. You'll never receive a warmer welcome from the locals.
BECOME A TEMPORARILY GENEROUS TIPPER
Overcome the national aversion to gratuities and tip generously during visits to bushfire affected regions. Every cent will assist in bringing the economies of communities back to full health.
FORGET THE VISION OF ROLLING GREEN HILLS
Blah! You can see them anywhere around the world. While sad, sometimes fire-scorched, drought-ridden countryside, can look breathtakingly dramatic.
TAKE A CHEF'S HAT TOUR OF THE NATIONAL CAPITAL
Canberra, which has suffered from severe smoke haze in recent weeks, boasts almost a dozen restaurants with chef's hats in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age Good Food Guide, so check them all out on a weekend or a shore break in our capital. Don't miss the two-hatted Aubergine, and graze at Courgette, XO, Pilot and Ottoman, to name just a few, in what's fast becoming one of our top food destinations. See goodfood.com.au
FROM THE FRONTLINE
JAMES MUSSILLON, CHEF AND OWNER OF THE ONE-HATTED COURGETTE RESTAURANT, CANBERRA
"We all know people who've lost houses and my family, out of the city, lost their back fence to fire. But while there's still been a bit of smoke around, my message to everyone is, 'Come to Canberra, we're ready for you!' Enjoy the region's fantastic produce, great wines, and the best service we can give you to make sure we're all still here next week, next year and the year after that." See courgette.com.au
ORDER PRODUCTS AND PRODUCE FROM AN AFFECTED AREA
Turia Pitt, the prominent Australian burns survivor, has launched a campaign to encourage people to buy products from businesses in affected areas and includes everything from jewellery and clothes to skincare to food. See instagram.com/spendwiththem.
TAKE AN AUSTRALIAN WALKING OR CYCLING HOLIDAY
Consider an active holiday, especially if you have kids, and that way you can spread your custom over a few different towns as you travel through.
PAY IT FORWARD
Hotels, cafes, restaurants and shops are all pretty empty in Victoria's devastated East Gippsland, so how about paying for a virtual bed, buying a virtual cake in the bakery and a coffee in the café? It helps keep local businesses afloat, and means you can treat a local in difficulties to a drink, meal or a bed. See itsmyshout.com.au
MAKE A BOOKING AT A HOLIDAY PARK OR CARAVAN PARK
You might not have been since you were a kid, but see by how much they've improved.
TAKE A FOODIE TOUR
We all do it in Europe and Asia, but how many of us have been on a food and produce tour in one of our own wonderful food-producing regions? Throw in a couple of stops at cellar doors, and you have the perfect escape.
FROM THE FRONTLINE
CAM JOHNS, OWNER, RIVIERA NAUTICA, GIPPSLAND LAKES, VICTORIA
"Most of Gippsland is safe to visit and we'd be very grateful for visitors to return and spend some money in our local towns. It might be good to think of it as a donation to bushfire recovery. People have been very generous but tourism is something that both sides get something out of, and will help us survive." See rivieranautic.com.au
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL FARMERS' MARKET
Some of the produce may well come from affected areas, so it's a great – and healthy – way to show you care.
RE-ORDER YOUR BUCKET LIST
Especially at a time when the Australian dollar isn't tracking so well, this is a great opportunity to lift some of Australia's highlights up the ladder a few rungs. Kangaroo Island, Kangaroo Valley, Uluru and Ningaloo Reef anybody?
SPLASH SOME OR ALL OF YOUR FREQUENT FLYER POINTS FOR DOMESTIC TRAVEL
You know they've been mounting up but you've been saving them for a special occasion. When's more special than now? Use them to fly somewhere in Australia you've always wanted to go and to book accommodation.
EMBRACE INDIGENOUS ART
Instead of going to Florence for the Uffizi, Paris for the Pompidou Centre or London for the Tate, take a trip to appreciate some of the best Aboriginal art in the country, to galleries and painters around Alice Springs, Warmun and Darwin.
ORGANISE A WINE APPRECIATION TRIP
Many of our wine areas, including those in NSW and Victoria, have mapped great tours of different vineyards, so gather a few friends together, nominate a driver, and set out on a long, leisurely series of liquid lunches, and dinners.
FROM THE FRONTLINE
LINDY PITT, CO-OWNER, THE LAURELS B & B, KANGAROO VALLEY, NSW
"I've had phone calls from people who thought the whole area was destroyed from the images they saw on TV. But that fire ran across the very edge, about 15 kilometres out of town. So once you're here, you don't see any burnt-out buildings or blackened forest at all. Everything is normal. We're still the loveliest valley in Australia, and one of only seven worldwide which are completely surrounded by mountains with one road in, and one road out." See thelaurelsbnb.com.au; visitsouthernhighlands.com.au
BUY THE PERFECT BIRTHDAY GIFT
SAMPLE TRADITIONAL BUSH HOSPITALITY
Check out, and check in to, old hotels, pubs and motels in regional areas for a really authentic experience of the country – and most probably huge meals.
TAKE A COUNTRY WOMEN'S ASSOCIATION COOKING CLASS IN ANOTHER PART OF THE COUNTRY
Kurrajiong CWA Markets. Photo: Geoff Jones
Learn to make pumpkin scones just like the original Flo-Joh (Flo-Bjelke-Petersen) and sponge cakes and preserves just like granny used to make.
SNUGGLE UP TO THE SNOWIES
Visitors are now being encouraged to visit villages and towns in NSW's Snowy Monaro, so Thredbo Valley businesses, Lake Crackenback Resort & Spa and the Wildbrumby Distillery, are welcoming visitors back with a Shake Hands with the Snowies scheme. Business owners, staff and residents are all greeting visitors with an old-fashioned handshake to say hello, welcome and thanks for being here. See snowymountains.com.au
BOOK A FARM STAY
The kids will love it – and you will too (and so will the farmers and their families and communities).
FROM THE FRONTLINE
MATTHEW CAMERON-SMITH, MANAGING DIRECTOR AAT KINGS AND INSPIRING JOURNEYS
"I've always been an advocate of Australians seeing more of Australia and not waiting too long to do so. I've just been down to Victoria's Phillip Island and the Mornington Peninsula and they're just stunning. We're in contact with authorities so we know exactly what's going on, and so much of Australia is still open for business and, while we need to be mindful and sensitive, tourism has a huge part to play."
AAT Kings and Inspiring Journeys operator escorted tours throughout Australia. The company has launched Bushfire Relief Giveback trips in collaboration with the #EmptyEsky movement. The not-for-profit tours have been designed in collaboration with the local community to inject funds into small businesses and support farmers. See aatkings.com; inspiringjourneys.com
TAKE THE FAMILY ON A DOMESTC HOLIDAY FOR YOUR BIRTHDAY
Tell them you want them to pool their money and, instead of jewellery, socks or chocolates, you want everyone to go on a family-bonding trip together somewhere not too far away.
VISIT A ZOO OR TWO
Many of Australia's leading zoos are playing a vital role in treating injured and homeless wildlife from the fires. Sydney's Taronga Zoo is highlighting the plight and the uniqueness of native Australian animals by offering half-price tickets on online purchases made until Friday February 7, 2020. Use the promo code SAVEWILDLIFE. See taronga.org.au
… BUT IF YOU VISIT JUST ONE, GO MOGO
Book online today and become a member, so you'll be among the first people in when the zoo, 10 minutes' south of Batemans Bay, NSW, reopens. It houses an astounding collection of exotic and endangered animals, with rare white lions and a new cub, a red panda and meerkats you can feed. See mogozoo.com.au
REVIEW AN AUSTRALIAN TOURISM ATTRACTION OR BUSINESS ON TRIPADVISOR
Have you visited a place in the bushfire-affected region before? Why not review it on Tripadvisor to encourage others to visit too. See tripadvisor.com.au
HAVE A ROMANTIC WEEKEND IN THE BLUE MOUNTAINS
Go for a walk hand-in-hand, have afternoon tea in a cosy café, check how the Three Sisters are doing, take a ride on the Scenic Skyway and stay a night – or several – in your choice of a huge range of accommodation. See visitbluemountains.com.au
FROM THE FRONTLINE
SIMON MCGRATH, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, ACCOR-PACIFIC HOTELS
"The long-term sustainability and success of these bushfire-affected areas of Australia comes down to each and every one of us. There is no-doubt visitors and holidaymakers will play a crucial economic role in the future recovery of these affected communities, as they get back up on their feet, so get planning. I can't emphasise enough how your visit will make a difference."
Accor-Pacific operates 400 hotels and resorts across Australia and the Pacific. See accor.com
SKIP AN INCLUSIVE BUFFET BREAKFAST AT THE HOTEL, RESORT OR B&B
Breakfast (or brunch) instead at a regional café and not only help stimulate the local economy but rub shoulders with the locals, too.
LIVE OUT A LITERARY FANTASY
Visit locations that have featured in some of our best-known Australian writings, like south of Mount Macedon, Victoria, for Joan Lindsay's Picnic at Hanging Rock, the Hawkesbury for Kate Grenville's The Secret River, Winton for Banjo Patterson's Waltzing Matilda, and Thirroul for D.H. Lawrence's Kangaroo.
TAKE AN INDIGENOUS CULTURE TOUR
Learn how Indigenous people have used fire for centuries to look after the land, and how their old ways are now being rediscovered as the key to a more resilient future.
GO FISHING OR BOATING OFF THE NSW SOUTH COAST
They are some of the most beautiful waterways we have, and they're pretty empty at the moment … Make the most of it!
CHECK OUT WHAT'S HAPPENING AT THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF AUSTRALIA, CANBERRA
There's always something happening and there's so much to see. Plus the NGA's blockbuster Matisse & Picasso exhibition is running till April 13. See nga.gov.au
GET TO-TRAVEL-OR-NOT-TO-TRAVEL UPDATES FROM TOURISM AUSTRALIA
Australia's international tourism marketing agency has had its role expanded to include domestic responsibility due to the bushfires emergency. Its australia.com website now includes a bushfires portal providing comprehensive information and updates on which areas are affected by fires, which are not and when you can and can't visit. See australa.com
FROM THE FRONTLINE
RAPHAEL GUILLIEN, GROUP OPERATIONS MANAGER OF ESCARPMENT GROUP, BLUE MOUNTAINS, NSW
"There's been a decline in bookings of more than 80 per cent over the school holiday season, but now the Blue Mountains is back to being the same magical place it was before, with beautiful walks, blue skies, clean air, birds singing and lovely valleys to explore. There's also great food, nice wine and all the hotels serving as much local product as possible."
The Escarpment hotels group operates the Hydro Majestic, Lilianfels, Echoes and Parklands Lodge, all in the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains Roaring 20s Festival is on February 8. See escarpmentgroup.com.au
As some of our communities start to regather, regroup and rebuild, they'll need help, especially from those of us with real skills to offer. Check out if help is needed in a region near you.
CATCH A TROUT IN THE SNOWIES
Tickle a trout in the Snowy Mountains, a paradise for fly-fishing. In spring and summer it ranks as one of the region's most popular activities, with trout the most sought after fish. Expert guides can take you to top angling spots with no experience necessary. See snowymountains.com.au
GO ON A GOLF HOLIDAY
Now is the time to organise that golf trip in regional Australia that you'd always planned.
CLICK ONOUR WEBSITE
Traveller's website includes more than 40,000 articles, as well as tens of thousands of photos, many of which are devoted to inspiring stories and guides on Australian destinations See traveller.com.au/australia
FROM THE FRONTLINE
RACHEL MCELWEE, DIRECTOR OF HAHNDORF ACADEMY, ADELAIDE HILLS, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
"We always want people to come and support local South Australian artists and quite a few of them are from the Adelaide Hills. So come and visit us, and help support people affected by the bushfires. We have beautiful art, some great wineries where you can buy wine as presents for friends for birthdays and Christmas; wonderful restaurants and beautiful historic villages with gorgeous streets. And if you can't get down here, you can always buy our art, and wine, online."
Hahndorf Academy is a not-for-profit arts hub based in the Adelaide Hills. See hahndorfacademy.org.au