Tourism to take a hit as bushfires trigger US travel alert
The US has upgraded its warnings to citizens travelling to Australia, with the fires putting the country on the same alert level as Gaza.
The move, which dismayed tourism authorities, came as the government braced for a drop-off in international tourist numbers in coming months, with global media coverage of the devastating fires deterring tourists from visiting Australia.
On Wednesday, the US State Department changed its travel alerts to level two for visitors to Australia, citing the bushfires and smoke haze. It warned visitors to "exercise increased caution due to natural disaster/bushfires. Some areas have increased risk".
It did not recommend tourists stay away but said to "consider postponing their trip to affected areas until the danger of natural disaster had passed.
"Authorities may issue evacuation orders to certain areas as conditions warrant," the warning said. "Even in areas not directly affected by bushfires, smoke is causing poor air quality. Smoke can affect people's health and it is important for everyone to reduce exposure.''
With Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra choked by smoke, the travel alert also warned US tourists to "consider postponing your travel plans to areas where air quality is significantly affected by bushfire conditions''.
Other western democracies rated at level two by the US State Department include the UK, France and Germany, due to the threat or terrorism.
Gaza, Israel and the West Bank, Algeria, Guinea and Hong Kong were all rated level two. The highest level of warnings for US tourists was level four - do not travel - for countries such as Syria.
Tourism Australia's statistics to June 2019 show the US was Australia's third-largest international tourism market, behind China and New Zealand with US tourists worth $4 billion to the economy.
Tourism operators have been meeting to discuss campaigns to lure international tourists back once the fire threat has eased. Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said the priority was "to convey the message in our key markets, including in the US, that Australia is still open for business and that most destinations around Australia remain safe and are unaffected by bushfires''.