Kangaroo Island tourism was expected to fetch $168 million in 2020 but local businesses are concerned that one of the island’s key industries is at risk of collapsing as tourists cancel bookings into April.
- An $11 million funding package has been announced by the state and federal governments
- 121 Australian Defence Force personnel are helping the local community with immediate relief
- Kangaroo Island is home to 103 businesses employing 800 people
The South Australian and federal governments today announced an $11 million funding package, allowing some immediate financial reprieve for small businesses and farmers following the devastating bushfires.
Small businesses affected by the fires may be eligible for grants of up to $10,000, while primary producers and farmers can access up to $15,000.
Fires continue to burn across the 4,400-square-kilometre island off the South Australian coast as Country Fire Service (CFS) crews prepare for worsening conditions tomorrow.
A force of 121 Australian Defence Force personnel has been deployed to Kangaroo Island to help with immediate relief and to ensure locals can access clean drinking water.
The blaze tore through 162,000 hectares — or a third of the island — on the western end, destroying a large part of the Flinders Chase National Park, razing 56 homes and placing threatened animal species at risk of extinction.
It killed respected bush pilot Dick Lang, 78, and his 43-year-old plastic surgeon son Clayton as they tried to flee the flames along the Playford Highway last Friday.
Tourism is expected to boom in 2020
The South Australian Tourism Commission estimated Kangaroo Island expenditure had the potential to net $168 million by December 2020 — up from $126 million in 2018.
It found by the end of 2018, there were 103 businesses on the island, employing 800 people.
Research by the commission also found that 43 per cent of Kangaroo Island tourists were South Australians, 29 per cent were from interstate and 28 per cent travelled from overseas.
But Kangaroo Island Seaside Inn owner Chris Schumann fears the industry faces potential collapse if cancellations continue to hit the island.
He said the initial impact following a bushfire was understandably the “devastation” it causes, but the “secondary impact” is on the businesses left standing.
“The eastern half of the island is still open for business and we need the visitors to keep coming,” he said.
“There’s a lot to see on Kangaroo Island still. There’s beautiful areas like Seal Bay, swim with the dolphins.
“We’re getting cancellations, and operators are getting cancellations, for the rest of January, February, March and April.
“If that continues for businesses on Kangaroo Island, it will be devastating.”
He said two staff members spent 12 hours on Monday working through all the cancellations.
‘Please don’t abandon us’
“What we want to tell the rest of Australia, and the rest of the world because the coverage for the fires has been international, ‘don’t abandon us, don’t cancel, come to Kangaroo Island, it’s a great experience still’.
“We understand the immediate cancellations, but it’s the ones going forward that are an issue for everybody on Kangaroo Island.
“People have lost their farms, have lost their property but some of them have daughters, brothers, sisters who are working in the tourism industry.
“If those businesses collapse and they lose their jobs, the impact is just double down.”
He said people had been asking small operators, such as bed-and-breakfasts, for a refund on bookings over the next two months.
“When you’ve got two months, or three months, of cancellations and they’re all wanting their money back, small operators cannot do that and it has a big impact on them,” he said.
Bushfire heat was as intense as a ‘volcanic eruption’
The luxury Southern Ocean Lodge — which cost up to $4,800 per night — was destroyed in the fires.
It was installed with a sprinkler system and underground fire bunker to withstand bushfires, but co-owner Hayley Baillie said this fire was the “worst-case scenario”.
“The only other thing that reaches that temperature is a volcanic eruption,” she said.
She said all of those with forward bookings had been refunded, but she hoped those tourists would still visit the island and stay elsewhere.
“There’s many incredible parts that didn’t get fires — Seal Bay, Admirals Arch, Cape Borda — and incredible accommodation to stay at on Kangaroo Island,” she said.
Ms Baillie and her husband James Baillie have vowed to rebuild the lodge.
Premier Steven Marshall has urged tourists not to abandon Kangaroo Island.
“This is a very, very large landmass … there’s more than 2,500-square-kilometres which is pristine island and we want to get people over there as quickly as possible,” he said.
“We’ve got conservation and national parks that aren’t open to the public and what we need to do is look at the feasibility of opening them up so we can create other attractions at the east end of the island, while we rebuild the west.
“We want to make sure what we end up with here, coming out of this tragedy on Kangaroo Island, is a stronger offer to the people.
“What we’re already seeing is massive goodwill from people out there in the community — I’ve got a feeling that they will be booking holidays … and supporting these communities.”