An innovative social media campaign from a Queensland tourism icon, key to rebuilding bushfire ravaged communities dependent on the visitor economy according to new Griffith research.

Dr Sarah Gardiner is Director of the Griffith Institute for Tourism and is a published researcher on travel consumer behaviour, experience design and innovation.

Researchers from Griffith Institute for Tourism, Dr Sarah Gardiner and Dr Debbie Cotterell, published key business insights for tourism operators affected by natural disasters.

Their case study of the Binna Burra Lodge’s disaster recovery, following a devastating bushfire in September last year, reveals how the business used #BringBackBinnaBurra to keep the public engaged.

Through social media posts and an email newsletter, supporters have seen videos of the Lodge site being cleared, photos of wildlife returning and blog posts about the staff who carried out the evacuation.

Dr Sarah Gardiner says tourism operators affected by natural disasters need to communicate their recovery efforts to minimise long-term effects on the visitor economy.

“Don’t ignore the event, your customers will know about it. Instead restructure messages around your recovery effort, it’s not a time for business as usual,” said Dr Gardiner.

Customers have shown their support by purchasing recovery supporter merchandise and raising over $100,000 through a crowdfunding campaign.

Dr Gardiner says the Binna Burra Lodge case study shows the strong ‘emotional connection’ customers build with destinations needs to be encouraged to ensure communities are not ‘abandoned in the aftermath’.

“There will be many challenges, but the destruction also provides an opportunity to rebuild and reimage the visitor experience. For example, following the cyclones in Tropical North Queensland resorts were rebuilt and improved,” said Dr Gardiner.

Dr Gardiner says Binna Burra Lodge is moving forward by changing fear and devastation into a new narrative. They plan to have the Rainforest Campsite, Lamington Teahouse and Sky Lodges in operation by April 2020.

“Collaborative approaches need to be considered to bring tourism back to these regions. Tourism businesses need to be creative in their vision to stay resilient in areas prone to natural disasters,” said Dr Gardiner.

Read the ‘Bushfire at Binna Burra Lodge’ case study in full.