Australia is facing unprecedented bushfires.

The blazes are widespread but have hit New South Wales and Victoria the hardest. According to NSW Rural Fire Service, 132 fires continue to burn across New South Wales, with 55 of them uncontained, as of January 9.

New South Wales and Victoria are southeastern states in Australia, home to cities like Sydney Melbourne and many national parks and smaller communities.

CNN reports that in total, about 14.7 million acres have burned across Australia’s six states, displacing thousands of people, endangering millions of animals, and bringing smoke levels in big cities like Sydney and Canberra to hazardous levels.

How the Bushfires Are Impacting the Meetings and Tourism Industry

Australia is both a popular vacation and meetings and incentives destination. Although bushfires are common in Australia, the late 2019 and early 2020 blazes are some of the worst in the country’s history.

Record-breaking temperatures, strong winds and a drought have combined to make this year’s bushfires increasingly disastrous. The Bureau of Meteorology calls Australia’s spring the driest one on record and the fifth-warmest one, too.

Australian Bushfires Skyview
Photo: Sydney, Australia | December 4, 2019: Australian bushfire: Smoke from bushfires covers the sky and glowing sun barely seen through the smoke. Suburb in a smoke haze. Catastrophic fire danger, NSW, Australia; Credit: Shutterstock

With the country’s summer just getting started, the heat seems far from over.

Conditions in affected areas are dangerous, but according to Tourism Australia, most properties and businesses key to the tourism industry are currently safe.

“Whilst bushfires continue to impact parts of Australia, many areas are unaffected and most tourism businesses are still open,” said Phillipa Harrison, managing director at Tourism Australia, in a statement on January 3.

If you have travel or event plans in Australia in the coming months, Tourism Australia has published a page including details of popular Australian destinations and whether or not they are impacted by the bushfires. These will continue to be updated.

On the page, there are also links to frontline organizations in Australia providing real time updates as conditions change. Access this information here.

Harrison says that the number one priority for Tourism Australia is emergency response and the safety of communities and tourists in affected areas.

“As we have seen, a number of regional destinations have been affected, and people’s travel plans have been impacted, but at this stage it is too early to quantify the full impact of the bushfires on the tourism industry, and in terms of international visitation to Australia.

“We are still gathering feedback from industry and monitoring impacts on future bookings closely as the situation unfolds.”

A few hospitality properties have suffered damage. It has been confirmed that a luxury property in South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, Southern Ocean Lodge, has endured extensive fire damage and is now closed. The team and guests staying on property were evacuated and are all safe. Future guests will be contacted with updates on the news.

Australian Bushfires
Photo: The Blue Mountains, New South Wales / Australia | December 21st 2019: As the wind changes the Ruined Castle bush fire smoke arrives in the Katoomba to block out the sun. Credit: Shutterstock

The local tourism industry is rallying to help. For example, on January 4, the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre announced that it will serve as a disaster relief center for evacuated community members from Mallacoota in East Gippsland, providing water, food, medical support and disaster relief services.

How You Can Help the Rescue and Relief Efforts

The NSW Fire Service says the best way people from around the world can help aid the bushfire rescue and recovery efforts is to donate money. For meeting professionals who want to aid Australia during this time, here are the recommended resources.

To help those who have been affected by the bushfires:

To help the volunteers deliver services to affected communities:

To assist with wildlife rescue efforts:

Additionally, as with other popular meetings and tourism destinations that have fallen victim to natural disasters, one of the best ways the meetings industry can help in recovery is to continue to bring future business to those destinations.

[Related: Puerto Rico’s Comeback Story]

“As we have seen from past severe weather events and natural disasters, tourism is an extremely resilient sector. When affected communities are ready to once again welcome visitors, tourism will continue to play an important role in supporting their recovery,” Harrison continued.

“The best thing that we can do at a time like this is to back our tourism industry and communities, and continue to market all the wonderful things about Australia and our people to the world.”

Helicopter dumping water on fire
Photo: Bundoora, Australia | December 30, 2019: Erickson Air Crane helicopter (Sikorsky S-64) N243AC dropping a large load of water onto a bushfire in support of fire fighting efforts by crews on the ground. Credit: Shutterstock

Resources for Updates on the Australian Bushfires

The Australian Government’s Bureau of Meteorology provides overall weather updates for all parts of Australia, including the latest fire warnings.

For specific advice, updates are available from:

Additional questions regarding health and safety for travelers in Australia, including frequently asked questions about health care abroad, bushfire season and emergency services can be found on Tourism Australia’s website.

Travelers are also encouraged to speak with local tourism operators and staff at local Visitor Information Centers for advice about local conditions.

Additional Resources for Planners with Events in Fire-Threatened Areas

U.S.-based planners aren’t strangers to fire threats. The wildfires in California in recent years have caused some major destruction across the state. Meetings Today has talked with some experienced meeting professionals to help with advance prep and risk management when planning events in areas that could potentially be impacted by natural disasters:

1. Meetings Today reported tips from two meetings industry veterans, attorney and disaster mitigation and facility contract expert Tyra Hilliard, and Joan Eisenstodt, Meetings Today blogger and chief strategist of Eisenstodt Associates. Both provided critical, immediate information for planners and/or their attendees who may be negatively impacted by a major hurricane, but these tips can be applied to preparing for any natural disaster, including fires.

2. These 10 Tips for Risk Management Preparations is a useful checklist to have on hand during the planning process to help you better prepare for both unexpected natural and manmade disasters.

Read more Australia content