Australian bushfire recovery information for tourism businesses

We have developed free resources to help tourism businesses impacted by the bushfires get back on their feet. They include communication templates, free online workshop and link to important resources.

Natural disasters can have a devastating impact on tourism destinations. Although community generosity is very high during a time of crisis, tourism towns and regions suffer due to the hesitation of would-be travellers who might overestimate the damage done to a fire-afflicted region. In light of the intense and widespread bushfires impacting many regions of Australia in the 2019/2020 fire season, it’s important to keep communication with guests open and honest, encouraging visitation whenever it is practical and possible to do so.

In this post, we will give you ideas, recommendations and templates for communicating with your guests during this period. Your approach will be different depending on whether your business is fully operational or not, we have therefore provided advice for businesses in both scenarios.

Open for business – Communications for businesses and regions that are unaffected and still operating

Managing your messaging amidst negative news reports

The intensity of media coverage during a natural disaster such as a bushfire is necessary in order to keep local communities and the general public informed about the current state of events. News coverage can also be very beneficial to local communities in that it encourages empathy and generosity, resulting in more money and other resources being donated to the people who need it most.

Unfortunately, the ongoing effects of news coverage can be far less positive for the tourism economy. Bushfire and other disaster media coverage can damage the reputation of a tourism region, deterring would-be travellers from visiting the area. This is true for domestic travellers but the effects are even more exaggerated for international travellers.

Clear messaging about your status in the context of the situation is important for combating negative media reports about your area. This blog post that Fabienne prepared after the 2018-2019 fire season provides a communication guide for businesses who are open for business and ready to accept guests during and after a natural disaster or extreme weather event.

Website banner example for businesses that are still operating

Even if your business was unaffected by the events in your region, it’s natural that outsiders might be unclear on what areas are safe to visit and which businesses are still operating. It’s your responsibility to clarify your position to potential visitors, however, repeatedly responding to enquiries about the status of your business can be tiring.

A good way to head off these enquiries is to clarify your position on your website. Add a banner or notice on your website homepage to let visitors know that your business is still operational. The banner should provide links for them to access the latest information updates about fire warnings and road closures. See the example below.

Enquiry response template message for businesses that are still operating

You are likely to receive phone calls and emails from concerned travellers who want to double-check that it is still safe to visit. It’s important to address the concerns of these guests and provide accurate information in order to reassure them. Below we have prepared a template for you and your team to adapt and utilise in response to any enquiries that you might receive in the wake of a disaster event such as a major bushfire.

“Hello (name),

Thanks for getting in touch with us. We are happy to let you know that our business has been completely unaffected by the recent fires/cyclone/floods in our area. We are fully operational and are running all services according to our usual schedule. We understand that you may have concerns about how (town/region name) has been affected by these events and I’d like to clarify what the current situation is in our area.

Although there has been damage to some parts of the area, many fabulous local attractions are still open to the public, we’d love for you to include them on your itinerary and show our region some love during this time.
The below attractions are operating as usual:

    • (list any visitor attractions, national parks, restaurants, wineries, breweries, accommodation providers and tour companies that you know are still operating)

Unfortunately, the below attractions are currently in recovery and therefore closed temporarily:

    • (list any visitor attractions, national parks, restaurants, wineries, breweries, accommodation providers and tour companies that you know are currently not operational. Limit this list to only mention the major attractions that you know your guests are likely to enquire about)

For the latest information about the bushfires/cyclone/floods please visit the (your state) emergency website, for information about road closure please visit the (your state) traffic website (add hyperlinks).

If you have any further enquiries or would like to make a booking please call us, email us or use the ‘book now’ button (add hyperlink) on our website.

We can’t wait to welcome you to (business or region name)!

Thank you,
(Your name) and all of the team at (your business name).”

Recovery mode – Communications and marketing messages for businesses that have been impacted and need time to recover

If you have had to shut down operations of your business temporarily due to safety concerns, or if you need some time to redevelop your business before welcoming guests back, then you also need to ensure you are communicating clearly with guests and potential visitors about your operating status.

Website banner example for businesses that are temporarily closed

An easy way to let any potential visitors to your business know that you are temporarily closed is to put a notice on your website. This is a quick and easy way to communicate to website visitors that you are not operating right now, by when you hope to reopen and how they can stay informed. It also directs travellers to alternative businesses in your region that are currently open and need support.

 

Enquiry response template message for businesses that are temporarily closed

Even though your business might be out of action right now, it’s important not to discourage potential customers from visiting your region entirely. You can support your local economy by encouraging visitors to come and visit other nearby businesses that are operational. It’s also an opportunity to lay foundations for future communication by encouraging them to follow your social media channels and blog. We have prepared a template for you to adapt and utilise in response to any booking enquiries that you might receive while your business is preparing to re-open.

“Hello (name),

Thanks for getting in touch with us. Our business is currently recovering from the damages that we incurred during the recent bushfires in our region so we’re sad to advise that we will not be able to accept your booking at this time.

Although WE are not able to take your booking right now, we would love for you to still visit our region. There are plenty of areas that are untouched or are recovering very quickly. You may be interested in visiting one of our neighbouring businesses that are ready to take your bookings now! You can find more information about them here: (provide links to any local businesses that are open and ready).

We are aiming to re-open our doors by June* this year (adjust recovery time as is relevant to your business) and we hope you come back to visit us then. You can follow our journey here on our Facebook page, Instagram account and news page (add hyperlinks).

Thank you,
(Your name) and all of the team at (your business name).”

Recovery marketing messaging options for when your business is open and ready for visitors

After a highly publicised event such as a major bushfire, visitors will have concerns and mixed emotions about travelling to your region. The public is likely to be wary about the safety and viability of the region as a tourism destination. They are also likely to feel a lot of empathy for the impacted communities and be looking for a way to contribute. In order to encourage visitors to come to your region sooner, you will need to adjust your marketing messaging to address the disaster in a way that considers these factors.

Research conducted by Dr Gabby Walters & Dr Judith Mair (2010) of the University of Queensland Business School has found that regular visitation is likely to resume after 12-24 months, although regular visitors (people who have visited 5 times or more) are more likely to visit within 6 months after the events. Their research has also shown that post-disaster marketing is likely to attract visitors who are unfamiliar with the affected region, which means that this can become an opportunity to introduce new customers to your business.

Tourism businesses have a few different directions to take when putting together their marketing messages. The below approaches have been found to have the best effects according to post-disaster tourism research (Walters & Mair 2010).

  • Community readiness – “We are ready to welcome you!”
    Visitors want to feel confident that the area is ready to receive visitors despite the damage that may have been done. They may be worried about being a burden on an already struggling community and feel that by visiting now, they are getting in the way of recovery. These visitors, therefore, need to be reassured that the town is ready to welcome them. Research has shown that community readiness is one of the most effective messages to use in post-disaster marketing.
    Example messages:
    • “Our community spirit is strong and we want to share it with you.”
    • “We are a foodies paradise – our cafes, restaurants, microbreweries and providores are waiting to welcome you.”
    • “We are feeling grateful that so much of our beautiful region remains open for business during such a challenging time. We’d love to see you here (and we know you’ll love it too).”
  • Outsider empathy – “Come and show your support!”
    The generosity of others during times of disaster is something to be admired. People are incredibly willing to offer support to others in their time of need. Tourism businesses can incorporate this into their messaging by letting visitors know that one of the best ways to help a tourism town to recover is to visit in person.
    Example messages:
    • “The best way you can support us is to do business with us, and we are open for business!”
    • “Our region needs you now more than ever, come and show your support for our community.”
    • “Wondering what you can do to support us after the fires? One way you can help is by visiting! With most of our business trading, there is so much to see and do!”
  • Testimonials and celebrity endorsements
    Guest testimonials are perceived as highly credible. Positive quotes from guests who have visited during the recovery period can be reassuring to potential visitors. Interestingly, one of the most effective post-disaster advertising techniques is to capture the endorsement of a celebrity, this may not be possible for your business but if you are able to capture a testimonial from a relevant celebrity, it will be a great advantage.
    Example messages:
    • “I visited the Blue Mountains with my partner immediately after the fires. Although there has been damage to some of the region, we were still able to visit our favourite attractions and enjoy many activities. We hiked, biked and kayaked our way through Katoomba and Wentworth Falls and even tried caving for the first time! All of the staff we encountered were so happy to see us. We’ll be back again soon.”
      – Sally Seccombe, Sydney

How to share your story

Travellers will engage well with genuine storytelling and there are multiple ways for you to reach your audience. In the post-disaster period, you can expect your audience to be apprehensive about visiting your region. Your marketing message should meet this apprehension with honesty. Share your experience and let them know that you are ready and excited to show travellers what you have to offer.

  • Prepare a blog post (or series of posts) that tells your story. Talk about your experience of the bushfires, how were you and your community impacted? What stories of heroism or camaraderie can you share? What are your hopes for the future for your business and region? How can visitors support you on the road to recovery?
  • Create a series of social media posts (amongst your regular posts) about your story of the bushfires and how it has affected your business and your community. Continue the series with posts showing the recovery, re-opened businesses and attractions, green shoots and nature re-emerging.  With each post decide on your message and call to action (eg. book now, share this post, follow our page, join our mailing list, etc)
  • Reach out to your email list. Hopefully, you have a list of newsletter subscribers, or at the very least have a list of email addresses from previous guests. Tools like Mailchimp are great for composing a simple email blast. Reach out to your subscribers to update them with your story and let them know that you are excited to be welcoming customers back to your business. You can also use this opportunity to promote other events and activities in your region that visitors might like to add to their itinerary, demonstrating that the whole community is excited about welcoming visitors back to the region.

‘Road To Recovery’ post-disaster marketing workshop and support for tourism operators

We are offering an online workshop for tourism operators on how to market your business in the wake of a natural disaster. In an effort to support the Australian tourism community, we have decided that this online workshop will be open access, meaning it will be free for both Tourism Tribe members and non-members. Registrations for this workshop are open now.

We’d also like to extend additional support for tourism operators who have been impacted by the bushfires in Australia since September 2019 by providing your business full access to all of our online training resources for a period of 3 months. This includes access to our full library of online training courses to help your business get back on top of your digital marketing and operations so that you can put your business in the best possible position to welcome back guests and move forward.

Read below to receive our free support

My business has NOT suffered from the Australian bushfires

My business HAS suffered from the Australian bushfires

  • Please use the toggle above if your business has suffered from the bushfires. You'll be eligible for our free 3 months membership and workshops.
  • This applies to any tourism business or business benefiting from tourism that has been affected by the Australian bushfires since September 2019

Where else to find support

State governments, tourism councils and other organisations are providing emergency funding and other non-monetary support to those tourism operators and community members who have been affected by the bushfires that have been ravaging parts of Australia. The below links provide information on how to access such support.

Please note that some states have not yet provided information regarding tourism or small-business fire recovery funding. In which case it may be worth contacting your state tourism organisation to find out if they have information regarding how fire-affected businesses can access financial support.

Australia-wide resources

New South Wales resources

Queensland resources

South Australian resources

Victorian resources

Emotional support resources

It is normal to experience anxiety and stress during and after a traumatic disaster event such as a bushfire. There are many free support options available including:

Temporary housing

If you or your guests have been evacuated and are in need of temporary housing or other services the below organisations are connecting evacuees with hosts:

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