Media hype around bushfires could affect tourism

22 Jan 2014

Sensationalist news reporting of the bushfires that are raging across parts of south-eastern Australia could have a negative effect on tourism in other parts of the nation, according to a senior University of Queensland academic.

UQ tourism researcher Dr Gabrielle Walters, who specialises in tourism crisis recovery marketing, said that as a result of some over-the-top reporting of the bushfires, there was a perception that the entire country had been affected by the blazes.

“According to broadcasts in the USA, the whole of Australia was ablaze during the fires in the Blue Mountains in late 2013,’’ Dr Walters said. 

“While it’s absolutely tragic that so many people here have been affected, the media needs to be very specific about exactly where the fires are and more sensitive about the descriptive language that’s used.’’

Dr Walters said the use of terms such as “Armageddon’’, “mega fire’’ and “as bad as it gets’’ could have caused irretrievable damage to the image and reputation of Australia.

“Harrowing press releases and graphic images given to the media by the country fire authorities also reinforced the idea of destruction and devastation that lingers in the minds of tourists after a bushfire event,’’ she said.

“Not only will this have severe financial consequences for tourism operators in the immediate area as tourists cancel their travel plans but major tourism destinations such as Sydney, Queensland and South Australia will also suffer as interstate and international tourists remain confused as to the exact location and extent of the fires.’’

Dr Walters said that while popular areas such as the Barossa region in South Australia were unaffected, they were implicated and tourism authorities needed to respond quickly to mitigate the unfounded perception that the entire south-east of Australia was now a no-go zone for tourists. 

“Tourism businesses and authorities can release factual information on their websites, be active on social media in terms of the status of their towns and should be encouraged to send the message that the region is safe and tourists are welcome,’’ she said. “It is all about earning the trust of those whose perceptions have been tainted by the media reports.’’

Dr Walters said media outlets also needed to be more sensitive to the economic dependence of regions on tourism and consider the impact their often-sensationalist headlines had on domestic and international tourism.