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Don't be put off by fires, Australia tells tourists

Tourism Australia urges companies to support Australian communities by bringing business events to the country

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Tourism Australia says many areas of the country are unaffected by the fires and most business events operators are open and ready to welcome visitors.

SYDNEY - Tourism Australia has urged companies worldwide to show support for Australia by bringing business events to the country currently savaged by deadly bushfires.

Thousands of people are homeless due to fires that have scorched more than 25.5 million acres of land - an area the size of South Korea. Smoke has blanketed cities including Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.

The bushfires follow a three-year drought that experts link to climate change and that has left bushland tinder-dry.

"Tourism and business events are a significant driver of Australia's economy, and one of the ways companies can help support our communities during this time is to continue to bring their events to Australia," said Phillipa Harrison, managing director for Tourism Australia.

"Many areas (of the country) are unaffected (by the fires), and most business events operators are open and ready to welcome visitors. Those affected by bushfires will benefit greatly from visitation when the time is right."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also urged tourists not to be deterred by the wildfires.

"Australia is open, Australia is still a wonderful place to come and bring your family and enjoy your holidays," he was quoted as saying by Reuters after meeting tourism operators and farmers on Jan 8.

"Even here on Kangaroo Island, where a third of the island has obviously been decimated, two thirds of it is open and ready for business," he said. "It's important to keep the local economies vibrant at these times."

Tourism accounts for 3.1 % of Gross Domestic Product and last summer season Australia attracted 2.71 million holidaymakers. But this year, hotel occupancy has dropped and some normally crowded resorts are ghost towns due to the crisis.