World

Australian govt to aid tourism industry as bushfires recede

MELBOURNE The Australian government said yesterday it will financially aid the country's tourism sector that has been badly hit by long-lasting bush fires, as Melbourne braced for downpours at the start of one of its greatest allures, the Australian Open.

Recent rains have brought the number of fires burning across Australia's east and south coast to under 100 for the first time in weeks, easing a disaster that has scorched an area roughly one-third the size of Germany.

The Australian government said it will channel A$76 million (S$70.4 million) to the tourism industry.

Twenty-nine people have been killed in the fires while thousands of animals have also perished.

Fears of smoke from the fires disrupting the Australian Open receded in Melbourne where the year's first Grand Slam starts today, but the city and parts of the bushfire-ravaged Victoria were bracing for heavy rains.

"Victoria is about to see its wettest two-day period in many, many months," Mr Dean Narramore from the state's Bureau of Meteorology said.

More than 780,000 fans attended the two-week Australian Open last year, according to figures from the office of the state's premier, providing a major influx of cash for Victoria's economy.

Damages to the tourism industry from the bush fire disaster have approached A$1 billion so far and may go above A$4.5 billion by the end of the year, according to estimates from Australian tourism bodies.

The government said the aid was "an initial push" to help the country's A$152 billion tourism industry, an increasingly vital part of Australia's economy that accounts for more than 3 per cent of annual economic output.

In a joint statement released with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said the bush fires have dealt the biggest reputational blow to the tourism industry.

"Tourism is the lifeblood of so many communities around Australia and it's absolutely critical that we help to get people back visiting those communities," Mr Birmingham said. - REUTERS

WORLD