Bushfires and Tourism in Australia

While the media and society appears to be focusing on the economy and the length of stay for governments climate change marches on.

 

After stuffing two small fire events , a small flood and extreme weather events on my property over the last six years I have become very aware of the impacts climate on our business and on the community. Prior to the last summer I prepared and circulated a bush fire survival plan for our tourism association, but we were still very unprepared for the potential events that lay in store. Read more 

 

The summer became the ‘Hottest January’ on record, ‘Hottest Summer’ on record, ‘Hottest Day’ on record for Australia as a whole as reported by the Climate Commission.

 

Consider how this translated into bush fire impacts during a two week period in NSW this summer of 2012-2013:

 

 

·         The Rural Fire Services attended more than 300 bush and grass fires, with more than 650,000 hectares burnt, the loss of over 50 homes, thousands of livestock, fencing and farm equipment.

 

·         There were 99 activations of the Emergency Alert telephone warning systems, including 43 uses of the new location-based warning systems for mobiles.

 

·         The Rural Fire Services public website received 8.5 million views, while there were more than 27 million views on the NSW RFS Facebook page, 15 million titter and 12,000 downloads of the Fires Near Me app.

 

·         The Bush Fire Information Line received over 26,000 calls.

 

·         There were 41 declarations of Section 44 status, with more than 10,500 fire-fighters from the NSW RFS, Fire & Rescue NSW National Parks and Forests NSW deployed.

 

·         Between 7th and 21st January, there were eight days where the Total Fire Bans were declared, including four state wide declarations.

 

I lobbied my local council to take action, they have a destination management plan but it excludes any risk management consideration, even though we are in the third worst bush fire prone zone in Australia. After many emails they said they would review the situation at their next board meeting. The result was a questionnaire to ask if businesses had been affected by the recent bush fires. They also plan to hold a workshop. However, I am aware that the lack of connection between threat and action runs right down to the grass roots level.  I have used my board position on the Tourism Industry Council NSW to present a paper on the threat of bush fire and methods on how to engage tourism provides. This was presented at the local government conference.. Key to encourage act is to present positive messages and lead with benefits rather than assault people with the need to spend money protecting them from a threat they cannot see. I strongly believe this is a method to also engage everyone in the developed world to change social practice and behaviour and consume less and reuse/recycle. I have published a paper  to encourage policy and the Tourism Industry Council is now contacting the Rural Fire Services with my request to develop a joint programme to better prepare tourism providers. We have much to do, persuasive communication is key.

 

Christopher Warren
Director
International Centre for Responsible Tourism – Australia

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Responsible Tourism in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is not often associated with tourism, let alone Responsible Tourism  , however I have found, in the past four months being on the field, working actively on tourism development projects, that the tourism industry here is on the verge of an explosion in development, and the potential for developing responsible tourism within the industry is immense.

To illustrate this, I thought I would share with you some of the activities I have been involved in over the past few months.

The first two months of being here, I worked with an international tour operator specialised in expedition products () to recce the Moa River to find out whether it was possible to navigate the whole stretch, from the Guinea Border to the Atlantic Ocean, by foot and dugout canoe. This was successful, and led to me being the “cultural attaché” and “Expedition leader assistant” to the official expedition. I took the opportunity to make sure that responsible tourism ethics were part-and-parcel of the experience. We were visiting communities that had for the most part had very little contact with Westerners, let alone received tourists as guests.

I then concentrated on the main purpose for me being here. To work, on a voluntary basis, with a Wildlife Sanctuary  as an “ecotourism product development and marketing consultant”. This has been a great opportunity to put into practice the knowledge and skills I am gaining from the Responsible Tourism Management MSc I am currently studying on a part-time, long distance basis. The Local Economic Development module I am currently undertaking has been an eye opener to the possibilities of involving local communities in tourism activities to produce meaningful social and net economic benefits with a long-term goal of sustainable additional livelihood generation.

 

I have just had a friend over whose job is to creatively design spaces with communities in mind and she is putting forward a proposal to upgrade facilities in the visitors centre with an emphasis on community involvement in the construction and maintenance, to provide regular benefits to local communities.

 

I have just finished my second community consultation meetings recently and am now firmly committed to producing an ecotourism management plan for the local communities so that they can manage the project’s tourism activities, but with local NGOs acting in a consultancy capacity for marketing, capacity building and management purposes.

 

I am also working with the National Tourism Board of Sierra Leone to develop a tour involving local communities surrounding Tiwai to generate additional income and opportunities for them as part of Sierra Leone’s drive to develop ecotourism products. This, luckily, coincides with the LED MSc assignment I will be handing in at the end of April.

 

On top of this, I have been asked by various NGOs to carry out ecotourism product development feasibility studies around the country, but unfortunately I do not have time to commit to these activities until I have fulfilled by current responsibilities and commitments.

 

This is why I am trying to create linkages between ICRT and NJALA University to start an ICRT Sierra Leone, to inspire more of the younger generations to become RT practitioners in their own country.

 

The opportunities are such, that I am even considering creating a tour company that focusses on introducing the large expat and NGO worker communities to the country they work in through outdoor activities (camping, bush-walking, river excursions, fishing, community visits) with RT principles deeply engrained in the company’s ethos. Watch this space!

Thomas Armitt is a current student on the MSc in Responsible Tourism Management