China’s decision to ban international group travel out of China due to the coronavirus outbreak will have a noticeable impact on Australia’s tourism industry, according to Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham.
Speaking in Canberra on Tuesday, Birmingham said tour groups account for around one in four Chinese travellers to Australia.
“But clearly the circumstances in China are serious, and we would anticipate that there would be many travellers outside of tour groups who may be reconsidering their travel plans as well,” he said.
“So this is a real blow to our tourism industry, and tragically comes on top of the stress the tourism industry is already facing as a result of the bushfire crisis.”
According to the World Health Organisation, the new strain of coronavirus, known as 2019 novel coronavirus, originated in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China.
Part of a family of viruses that include the common cold, SARS and MERS, novel coronavirus has so far claimed 170 lives (162 of which were in Hubei province) and infection numbers are now over 7100, according to The Guardian.
Birmingham anticipates there will be a global impact on tourism as a result of the virus.
“…what we’ll have to do in Australia is work as hard as we can to make sure that our tourism providers get through these tough times, and to build alternate markets for them, whether that’s Australians choosing to holiday here in Australia or other international markets that we can promote safe travel to Australia too,” he said.
Accommodation sector to take a hit
Tourism Accommodation Australia CEO Michael Johnson said the accommodation sector will likely feel the impacts of China’s travel ban.
“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.”
Johnson said the association will work alongside state and federal governments on tourism recovery programs to off-set the downturn.
“Our industry is resilient and we will work through this together,” he said.
The Accommodation Association is also working with government to reinforce the importance of tourism programs, such as Tourism Australia’s Holiday Here This Year campaign.
“The Association and industry are very concerned at the global uncertainty around the spread of the coronavirus and the direct and indirect impacts it will have on travel to Australia, ranging from the cancellation of all group tour business from China to the spread to other overseas markets,” said Accommodation Association CEO Dean Long.
Long said the association is taking advice from the World Health Organisation and the Australian Government on the matter.
International airlines halt flights
Airlines around the world are responding to the outbreak, with British Airways halting all direct flights in and out of mainland China.
“We have suspended all flights to and from mainland China with immediate effect following advice from the Foreign Office against all but essential travel,” the airline said in a statement.
It follows a number of other international carriers that have suspended or reduced flights since the outbreak, including United Airlines, Air Canada, Cathay Pacific, Air Seoul and Lion Air.
Qantas is yet to scale back or halt flights to and from China.
On Wednesday, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the airline will continue to review its Sydney-Beijing route, which is set to be cancelled in March due to poor performance.
“We continue to review that, continue to review the loads, and whether we look to do that earlier or keep it operating until that date,” he said.