By Ellen Hill, Blue Mountains Lithgow & Oberon Tourism
One year after the devastating October 2013 bushfires, it is business as usual for one of the most recognisable places on earth – the Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon region.
Blue Mountains Lithgow & Oberon Tourism (BMLOT) chairman Daniel Myles said: “The October 2013 bushfires were a terrible part of our community’s history and we very much feel for those who lost their homes. After all, they are our family, friends, neighbours and colleagues.
“The tourism and hospitality industry is one of the major economic drivers of this region so its success is crucial to countless families, whether someone in the household has a couple of casual shifts at a cafe, a full-time job as a housekeeper at a hotel, is an outdoor guide or owns their own grand hotel.’’
The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area attracts 4 million visitors and $550 million a year, generates more than 5100 equivalent full-time jobs and is recognised globally as a hub for outdoor recreation and magnificent vistas. Add to that a growing regional food and wine focus, an endless round of festivals and events and its place as the first tourist destination in Australia.
“None of that changed with the October 2013 bushfires –the main tourist experience remained intact,’’ Mr Myles said. “In fact, there is no risk to visitors to the region most of the time, especially at popular sites and attractions.’’
Nevertheless, the tourism and hospitality industry had identified several areas in which it could improve its protection of and communication to visitors to the region.
“The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area is a place of great beauty. However, it is an untamed wilderness (notice the word `wild’) of many moods which demands respect and awe.’’
In the past 12 months, BMLOT had spent much time and effort learning how other tourism organisations and destinations had responded to similar incidents.
The official regional tourism organisation had explored ways in which it could build on the existing policies, protocols and strategies successfully implemented during the October 2013 bushfires.
BMLOT had begun to introduce bushfire and general bush safety messaging into its everyday communications.
“Last year, our identified emergency evacuation point for tourists who needed a safe place to go was the Waldorf Leura Gardens B&B Resort, an excellent option given its size, facilities, proximity to a residential area and distance from bushland,’’ Mr Myles said. “Emergency evacuation points which do not burden facilities intended for residents will be identified during each such bushfire incident from now on.’’
BMLOT will work with tourism and hospitality business owners on evacuation plans and other internal industry safety measures.
The organisation had also built on its already solid working relationships with emergency services, National Parks & Wildlife Service, Blue Mountains City Council, Sydney Trains and others.
Mr Myles encouraged people to see for themselves the unblemished tourist experience in Australia’s most accessible wilderness.
“If people want to help the region on its road to recovery, they can treat themselves to a short break in the Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon region, knowing that spending money on a hotel room, buying a meal and going on an experience helps support the thousands in this community who work in the tourism industry – and have an amazing experience at the same time.’’
Go to visitbluemountains.com.au for dining, accommodation and activity options.