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Bushfire tourism flagged by SA Environment Minister following Kangaroo Island crisis

January 21st, 2020 | | industry

Like other fire-ravaged parts of Australia, Kangaroo Island is still coming to terms with the scale of the devastation, but one MP says the problem could be part of the solution.

Key points:

  • Seal Bay has reopened after being closed for safety precautions during the bushfires
  • Environment Minister David Speirs said the Government hopes to create a “safe corridor” through Flinders Chase National Park
  • Mr Speirs said some tourists might be drawn to the island to see the devastation

As local authorities do their best to promote KI as a place still open for business, Environment Minister David Speirs spoke of the need to make the best of a bad situation.

He said while the fires have been devastating for most people on the island, with the loss of life and multiple businesses on the brink of collapse, it could provide a tourism opportunity.

“Many tourists may actually find that a fascinating environment to view,” he said.

“I have already spoken to tour operators who have shown an interest in taking people into the burnt landscape, explaining what has happened there and how it will recover.”

Mr Speirs is currently on a two-day visit to the island and said work was also being done to create a “safe corridor” for tourists who wanted to travel to areas such as Flinders Chase National Park.

He said while he had witnessed “some shocking scenes” and there was “very significant burning inland”, the island’s coastal areas “remain very beautiful”.

“Our hope is that we will rebuild in a way that’s better than what was previously there, perhaps more sympathetic and suitable for the natural environment,” Mr Speirs said.

“We will be engaging with tourism operators and locals on Kangaroo Island to find out what they want.”

A birds eye view of damaged property from a bushfire on Kangaroo Island

PHOTO: Damaged buildings at a property in a fire near Parndana. (ABC News: Haidarr Jones)

Balancing tourism with respect

Earlier this month, Booker prize-winning novelist Richard Flanagan compared Australia’s fire crisis to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which ushered in political change in the former Soviet Union.

“Could it be that the immense, still-unfolding tragedy of the Australian fires may yet prove to be the Chernobyl of climate crisis?” Flanagan wrote in The New York Times.

Australia’s fires have not spread highly radioactive material, but forests blackened by fires have come to resemble Chernobyl’s red forest, where pine trees died after absorbing radiation.

Forest destroyed by fire on Kangaroo Island.

PHOTO: Kangaroo Island’s bushfires have destroyed swathes of woodland. (ABC News: Haidarr Jones)

Flanagan’s analogy was also apt in another sense.

Despite the ongoing danger, the Chernobyl zone has become a hotspot for so-called “dark tourism” — visitation driven by a fascination with death and destruction.

University of Queensland tourism analyst Gabby Walters said while it was “too soon to be talking about” that in relation to Australia’s bushfires, there was nothing wrong with encouraging travel to disaster-hit zones in order to promote rejuvenation.

“Curiosity … is one of the key motivations that will drive people to visit a destination that has been struck by disaster,” Associate Professor Walters said.

“It’s definitely good for the economy and definitely good for the recovery. As long as, of course, the community is ready to welcome people back.

“We really need to position this carefully, because Australian people won’t respond well to dark tourism, disaster tourism, because that implies [tourists are] going there purely to witness a tragedy.”

Smoke rises from burnt land still smouldering from the Kangaroo Island bushfires

PHOTO: Smoke rises from burnt land still smouldering from the Kangaroo Island bushfires. (ABC News: Haidarr Jones)

Government considers tax relief for victims

Kangaroo Island’s Tourism Association has also openly acknowledged the difficulties confronting the local sector.

“As a result of the Kangaroo Island bushfires that started on the 3rd [of] January, 2020, approximately 48 per cent of our land mass was affected,” it said in a statement on its website.

“However, as Australia’s third-largest island, much of the land is still open, accessible and as it has always been.”

The famous Seal Bay — which is home to a colony of about 1,000 Australian sea lions and closed due to safety reasons — was untouched by the bushfires and today reopened.

Forest destroyed by fire on Kangaroo Island.

PHOTO: Almost half of Kangaroo Island has been affected by the fires, including forests. (ABC News: Haidarr Jones)

Mr Speirs said while it would probably take two years for places such as Flinders Chase National Park to fully reopen, there were options for compromise.

“We think we can get much of the national park’s features open in the coming months to some extent,” he said.

SA Labor today called for a tax relief package for bushfire victims from Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills, following the lead of the Victorian Government.

“You can go a long way to assisting bushfire-affected communities by government contemplating its tax settings for those people,” Opposition leader Peter Malinauskas said.

Drone images show acres of land blackened by bushfires

PHOTO: Blackened trees and thick ash on the ground after bushfire ripped through. (ABC News: Haidarr Jones)

Treasurer Rob Lucas said the State Government was considering the option, and would make an announcement in the coming days.

“There have been a range of other issues that people are suggesting in terms [of] providing relief and support. There are various grants and loan packages, there have been calls for subsidies for travel,” he said.

“We’re having a look at what, if anything, we might do in that particular area.”

ED: Having spoken to operators in the area, The Byte can advise that the island is open for business and KIAT are welcoming travellers to visit KI.

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow