I will leave the assessment of the medical threat and impact of the virus outbreak to the experts but there can be little doubt that the economic damage to our tourism sector will be significant. A good portion of the almost $12 billion annual Chinese visitor expenditure in Australia is at stake, especially if group travel bans stay in place, as now expected, for months. China has become a dominant part of our international visitor mix, far greater than it was during a previous crisis like SARS. In addition, we have social media platforms in overdrive, making it far more difficult to present the travelling public with accurate and consistent information that might reassure them.
This will require an all-out call-to-arms in our industry, in partnership with both state and federal governments. I believe there is a strong awareness amongst political leaders that tourism must be supported during this crisis as a means to help in a broader economic recovery effort. The $76 million Commonwealth allocation to tourism, mainly to Tourism Australia, in response to the bushfires is a good start. Boosting domestic travel, business and leisure, and supporting local events must now be a priority. Generating strong domestic activity will also help us restore our international image after relentless coverage of Australia as a disaster-ravaged destination.
While an all-out marketing and public awareness effort is where our attention must be, we cannot forget that many operators are facing more immediate challenges. The fixed costs of doing business, including wages, keep coming even if revenue suddenly declines from external events such as bushfires and health crisis. Many operators are now also confronted with the dilemma of consumers and agencies demanding refunds for cancelled services. Some are also struggling to deal with guests arriving from overseas with potential health issues requiring quarantining. We have also had reports of staff expressing concerns about having to engage with visitors for virus-affected countries. QTIC is engaged nationally to seek consistent industry and government responses to these issues and I encourage you to contact us with any information or issues that could help us understand and respond.
We are in direct and frequent contact with the Queensland Government and Federal Government to work collaborately for practical actions that can support our operators over the coming months.
To end on a note of optimism, previous health crisis like SARS, as devastating as they were, once the medical all-clear was given, the recovery was swift. The urge to travel is – thankfully – irrepressible. Until then, let’s remind all Australians to do their bit for the country and get travelling, especially to Queensland.
For all current Coronavirus information provided by Tourism Australia click below.
Information for cruise staff
Information for travellers arriving in Australia from China
Information sheet for airline staff
Information sheet for border staff
Daniel Gschwind, QTIC Chief Executive