Coronavirus as bad as bushfires, tourism body says, as it seeks another $76m

A peak tourism body says the impact of the coronavirus epidemic on local tourism is “on the same scale” as Australia’s recent bushfires and is urging the government to commit another $76 million to the sector.

Tourism Council WA chief executive Evan Hall says the travel ban is “having a huge economic, social and health impact on tourism businesses and their staff”, and he wants a matched commitment of funds from the government to fight the latest tourism threat nationally.

The call comes as the government prepares to extend the travel ban for all non-Australian residents travelling from China once the current 14-day restriction expires on Saturday.

An extended ban will exacerbate the suffering of numerous China-reliant businesses nationally, Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk telling state parliament last week that the Cairns region alone had already lost $200 million in bookings, and Gold Coast operators were expecting to lose $400 million.

“From an international tourism perspective, for many businesses I think this is already a crisis,” Tourism and Transport Forum CEO Margy Osmond from the told The ABC.

“When we’re not getting any Chinese visitors virtually, that’s a very substantial impact every month and for as long as this goes on, and potentially even after because we’ll have to reconstitute the relationships and the marketplace.”

Evan Hall argues that even after the ban is lifted, it could be some months before visitor numbers return to normal, as was the case following the SARS outbreak.

“Tourism Council WA is calling on the federal government to match its bushfire recovery package to assist the industry with the challenge presented by the coronavirus and associated travel ban,” he said.

“An immediate federal response is required to protect tourism businesses, the jobs they create and the communities they support.”

A survey of WA tourism businesses conducted by the council found 78 percent were experiencing some impact from coronavirus.

“Of the businesses experiencing an impact, 43 per cent of businesses have experienced cancellations from Chinese visitors and 40 per cent are reporting reduced forward bookings from the Chinese market,” Mr Hall said.

“But the impact reaches beyond the China market – 28 percent of businesses reported reduced forward bookings from other international visitors, and 17 percent have experienced cancellations from other international markets.”

The plea follows a commitment from the WA government this week of $5 million towards state tourism marketing initiatives and another $8 million towards extending affordable regional airfares on key routes.

WA’s Australian Hotels Association chief Bradley Woods told AccomNews this week it was “critical that early measures are taken to mitigate the dual impact of the recent bushfires and the novel coronavirus outbreak” but said current local and national funding commitments would providing a significant boost to the state.

“The investments that we are seeing from both the state and federal governments will greatly assist WA’s accommodation and hospitality businesses in countering the effects of these two unprecedented events,” Woods said.

“While Western Australia has been fortunate in being largely unaffected by the bushfires, there has been a knock on affect driven by cancellations of Australia-wide tours along with the misguided perception of potential travellers that WA was heavily impacted by the fires.

“In respect to coronavirus, it is too early to assess what the impact will be on our tourism industry, but with travel restrictions from China already widening it is clear that it will likely be more damaging than the SARS outbreak in 2003.”

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