Flat White

How activists and media made a tourism industry firestorm

22 January 2020

1:03 PM

22 January 2020

1:03 PM

Where the bloody hell are you?

Not in Australia apparently.

While no official figures are available yet, anecdotal evidence from international tour operators suggests significant cancellations, with one report saying Trade and Tourism Minister Senator Birmingham has  warned “some operators had recorded a downturn of bookings from overseas markets of up to 40 per cent, putting tourism and hospitality jobs at risk.”. At the same time, we are staying home: “Tourists are abandoning regional Victoria and NSW in droves, with cancellation rates of more than 60 per cent even in towns outside the bushfire zones causing economic damage of up to $1 billion.” The Federal government is so concerned about the impact on local economies that rely on the tourist dollar it has announced a $76 million assistance package for the industry.

Yet, preciously little tourist infrastructure across our vast continent has been directly lost to bushfires. An overwhelming majority of tourist areas around the country, particularly those favoured by overseas visitors, have not been in any way affected by the fires (the smoke in Sydney being perhaps the most significant exception). A few days ago, Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, was pleading with Donald Trump to reconsider the State Department’s advice to Americans to postpone travel to Australia, rightly pointing out that her state, a tourist magnet from the Gold Coast to the Great Barrier Reef, has been virtually untouched. Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has made similar statements.

So who’s to blame for this downturn?

Just like many other people I know, I have been inundated by messages from family and friends overseas, inquiring about my safety, having been terrified by the media reports of what seemed like an environmental armageddon engulfing the entire country. I had to explain time after time that while the fires have been savage and extensive, they have largely burned through relatively sparsely populated areas (if it all, considering the vast extent of our national parks). No significant town has been threatened and destruction and loss of life, while tragic, has been pretty small in proportion to the area affected.

Yet, watching the hysterical and over-sensationalised coverage overseas has convinced many that the very existence of the nation is at stake. And the social media, if anything, has been even worse, with a number of completely misleading maps and photos exaggerating the extent of the affected areas by two-figure factors. Even such venerable institutions as CBS News in the United States, once presided over by the magisterial Walter Cronkite, have published graphics like the one above (later corrected). 

As I have pointed out, it’s true and area the size of the state of Kentucky has been burned out but unlike most other places on Earth — paticularly in the developed world — it takes nearly 80 Kentuckys to fill Australia.

Media sensationalises at the best of times in a never-ending quest for more eyeballs.  The old line “if it bleeds, it leads”, or, in this case, “if it’s on fire, we’re on fire”, is almost as old as the popular press itself — but the intersection of a large scale natural disaster with the “climate crisis” activism has generated a truly terrifying inferno of human passions where news becomes propaganda and the narrative trumps the objectivity.

A significant proportion of the population – and the majority in the media – want to see the fires as Gaia’s wrath, with the disaster turning into green porn to terrify, titillate and agitate.

Tourism has now become one of the casualties of this rhetorical excess, collateral damage to the pursuit of a political agenda.

This crisis is very much man-made and the economic pain unnecessarily inflicted on a whole industry because you wanted to make as terrible a point as possible will hang around your necks like a charred albatross, dear green activists on the streets — and your colleagues masquerading as journalists.

Arthur Chrenkoff blogs at The Daily Chrenk, where an earlier version of this piece also appears.

Illustration: CBS News.

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