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Floods hit Australian tourism

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BRISBANE, Australia (AFP) – Brisbane is a travel hub for tourists and the gateway to the pristine beaches, rugged outback, tropical rainforests and Great Barrier Reef of Australia’s famed ‘Sunshine State’.

But the floodwaters that surged through the city last week, depositing tonnes of putrid mud and debris, have shut down Brisbane’s arts precinct, closed cafes, damaged hotels and scarred the image of tourist friendly Queensland.

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“We depend on backpackers, yes, they are scared, they don’t want to go to Fraser Island or the Whitsundays, or the Gold Coast, they are afraid of being stuck on the road,” explains Lindsey Frazer of backpacker specialist Wicked Travel.

At the Cloud 9 hotel, which caters to backpackers, guest numbers are down.

“We were pretty much full at the start of the flooding,” says receptionist Andrew Josey. “But people have been scared of the lack of electricity.”

In Brisbane’s Transit Centre, shops and travel counters are closed, and tourists scramble for the latest information on roads and transport.

Hungarian tourist Balazs Czimmermann says the waters have altered his plans.

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“We’ve been here in Australia for three weeks, but since Monday, we’ve had to stay at friend’s (place) here because we couldn’t go anywhere,” he said adding that a road trip to scenic Fraser Island had to be cancelled.

The floods come as the Australian government attempts to lure foreign visitors to its shores via a deal with US talk show queen Oprah Winfrey who is devoting four episodes of her show to her December Down Under tour.

The government spent some $Aus5 million ($5 million) to bring Winfrey to Australia in the hope that episodes filmed by the influential superstar on the steps of the Sydney Opera House would encourage others to make the long-haul trek.

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Officials called it a priceless opportunity to showcase the nation to the world and the Australia shows — which feature Winfrey visiting iconic tourist sites such as the monolithic red rock Uluru — are set to air in the US this month.

But as John Lee, chief executive of the Tourism & Transport Forum, points out, the floods make it “harder” to sell Australia as a tourist destination.

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“You have two major visions of Australia hitting television and plasma screens across the world. In 140 markets they will be seeing Oprah with Australia an idyllic setting. But then on the news they will see flooding.”

The floods also coincide with a strong Australian currency and a unseasonably wet 2010 which deterred many domestic travellers from Queensland.

Lee said the high currency meant Australians were also travelling overseas at record levels. “That, combined with the weather, is going to have real impacts on the tourism industry this year,” he told AFP.

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Daniel Gschwind, chief executive of the Queensland Tourism Industry Council, believes the floods will severely impact the $Aus41 billion industry, costing it tens of millions of dollars.

“We were already a week ago estimating that it would cost the industry upwards of $Aus100 million,” he told AFP, saying it would now be significantly higher. “We had no idea that we would suddenly find Brisbane underwater.”

Gschwind said the massive media coverage of the floods would deter visitors.

“We are seriously concerned not just about the direct impact of flooding… but the perception issue that will undermine the industry at a time when it will need the support of visitors the most,” he said.

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He said while the flooding had been dramatic and the disruption significant, even forcing the Queensland Industry Tourism Council to temporarily abandon its Brisbane office and send its staff home, many popular tourist sites were not impacted by the raging floods which claimed more than a dozen lives last week.

“As dramatic as it is, it is not the whole state of Queensland (flooded). The tourism centres of the Gold Coast, of the Whitsundays, of Cairns are perfectly fine.”

Tourism accounts for about Aus$10 billion per year in Queensland, employing about 200,000 people and is the second-largest export industry for the so-called Sunshine State after coal, making it vital to the region’s recovery.

But Gschwind said while the industry was hard hit it was resilient.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We have a tragic history of having to deal with issues, with SARS, or swine flu or terrorism or other things… and we take it in our stride,” he said.
BRISBANE, Australia (AFP) – Brisbane is a travel hub for tourists and the gateway to the pristine beaches, rugged outback, tropical rainforests and Great Barrier Reef of Australia’s famed ‘Sunshine State’.

But the floodwaters that surged through the city last week, depositing tonnes of putrid mud and debris, have shut down Brisbane’s arts precinct, closed cafes, damaged hotels and scarred the image of tourist friendly Queensland.

“We depend on backpackers, yes, they are scared, they don’t want to go to Fraser Island or the Whitsundays, or the Gold Coast, they are afraid of being stuck on the road,” explains Lindsey Frazer of backpacker specialist Wicked Travel.

At the Cloud 9 hotel, which caters to backpackers, guest numbers are down.

“We were pretty much full at the start of the flooding,” says receptionist Andrew Josey. “But people have been scared of the lack of electricity.”

ADVERTISEMENT

In Brisbane’s Transit Centre, shops and travel counters are closed, and tourists scramble for the latest information on roads and transport.

Click image to see photos of the flooding in Australia

Reuters/Tim Wimborne

Hungarian tourist Balazs Czimmermann says the waters have altered his plans.

“We’ve been here in Australia for three weeks, but since Monday, we’ve had to stay at friend’s (place) here because we couldn’t go anywhere,” he said adding that a road trip to scenic Fraser Island had to be cancelled.

ADVERTISEMENT

The floods come as the Australian government attempts to lure foreign visitors to its shores via a deal with US talk show queen Oprah Winfrey who is devoting four episodes of her show to her December Down Under tour.

The government spent some $Aus5 million ($5 million) to bring Winfrey to Australia in the hope that episodes filmed by the influential superstar on the steps of the Sydney Opera House would encourage others to make the long-haul trek.

Officials called it a priceless opportunity to showcase the nation to the world and the Australia shows — which feature Winfrey visiting iconic tourist sites such as the monolithic red rock Uluru — are set to air in the US this month.

But as John Lee, chief executive of the Tourism & Transport Forum, points out, the floods make it “harder” to sell Australia as a tourist destination.

ADVERTISEMENT

“You have two major visions of Australia hitting television and plasma screens across the world. In 140 markets they will be seeing Oprah with Australia an idyllic setting. But then on the news they will see flooding.”

The floods also coincide with a strong Australian currency and a unseasonably wet 2010 which deterred many domestic travellers from Queensland.

Lee said the high currency meant Australians were also travelling overseas at record levels. “That, combined with the weather, is going to have real impacts on the tourism industry this year,” he told AFP.

Daniel Gschwind, chief executive of the Queensland Tourism Industry Council, believes the floods will severely impact the $Aus41 billion industry, costing it tens of millions of dollars.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We were already a week ago estimating that it would cost the industry upwards of $Aus100 million,” he told AFP, saying it would now be significantly higher. “We had no idea that we would suddenly find Brisbane underwater.”

Gschwind said the massive media coverage of the floods would deter visitors.

“We are seriously concerned not just about the direct impact of flooding… but the perception issue that will undermine the industry at a time when it will need the support of visitors the most,” he said.

He said while the flooding had been dramatic and the disruption significant, even forcing the Queensland Industry Tourism Council to temporarily abandon its Brisbane office and send its staff home, many popular tourist sites were not impacted by the raging floods which claimed more than a dozen lives last week.

“As dramatic as it is, it is not the whole state of Queensland (flooded). The tourism centres of the Gold Coast, of the Whitsundays, of Cairns are perfectly fine.”

Tourism accounts for about Aus$10 billion per year in Queensland, employing about 200,000 people and is the second-largest export industry for the so-called Sunshine State after coal, making it vital to the region’s recovery.

But Gschwind said while the industry was hard hit it was resilient.

“We have a tragic history of having to deal with issues, with SARS, or swine flu or terrorism or other things… and we take it in our stride,” he said.


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