Coronavirus ‘catastrophic’ for Australia’s tourism sector

The tourism sector’s reliance on visitors from China is to take a hit following the rapid spread of coronavirus.

China has stopped its citizens from booking overseas tours as part of the its efforts to contain the rapid outbreak that started in the city of Wuhan.

The China Tourism Association had already stopped all domestic holiday hotel and flight bookings through travel agencies before announcing on Saturday it would apply the same ban for outbound tour groups.

China is Australia’s biggest international tourist market, with about 1.4 million Chinese visitors coming each year. The ban is forecast to affect about a quarter of those travellers to Australia.

Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald, University of Technology Sydney tourism expert David Beirman said the fact the ban was over the Lunar New Year period made it “incredibly serious”.

“This time of year is the absolute peak for Chinese travelling abroad and domestically,” Dr Beirman said. “If that tap was to be turned off, that would be pretty catastrophic at least in the short term for an Australian tourism industry that is used to having that as a major source.”

Tourism Accommodation Australia CEO Michael Johnson said the news is the latest blow to the industry still struggling following the bushfires.

“China is Australia’s largest tourism market and accommodation hotels in metropolitan areas in particular are reliant on the steady flow of organised groups from China,” he said.

“Although Australia derives tourists from a range of locations including the UK, Japan, New Zealand and the US there’s no doubt any temporary drop in Chinese tourists would have a large impact – especially during the time of the Chinese Lunar New Year.

“There were already concerns in our international tourism markets due to the heavy coverage of bushfires internationally and concerns over air quality in Sydney and the coronavirus has only added to that. Our industry is resilient and we will work through this together.”

Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said Australia has safeguards in place to deal with the threat of viruses including at airports.

“These have in the past minimised the impacts of other viruses on our tourism industry by giving people confidence in the safety of visiting Australia,” he said.

“We will work closely with our tourism industry partners to assess the impacts of this and how we may best recalibrate the promotion of Australia to minimise impact of these actions on our tourism businesses.”

Currently those travelling individually, on business, for official reasons or to study are not covered by the ban.