The Chinese Government’s ban on group travel due to the coronavirus outbreak is already hurting Queensland’s tourism industry and education sector, with some operators reporting thousands of booking cancellations.
- Tourism operators in north Queensland have reported more than 1,000 cancellations
- Groups of students from China are postponing plans to visit Australia
- Bundaberg Regional Council has also delayed the visit of 45 Chinese delegates to the city
Tourism Tropical North Queensland CEO Mark Olsen said local operators had reported more than 1,000 cancellations.
“This will undoubtedly have an impact and additional marketing funds for the region, and for Australia, will be needed to offset the impact,” Mr Olsen said.
Cairns MP Michael Healy, who ran the sales and marketing department of a major tourism operator before moving into politics, said the coronavirus outbreak could be more damaging to the industry than the SARS virus was in the early 2000s.
“We were getting around 180,000 to 200,000 Chinese visitors annually to our region and around about 65 per cent of those were Chinese groups,” Mr Healy said.
“That group business is the core business for a lot of the tourism operators … so while there is a restriction on group travel, it’s going to have a detrimental impact.”
Cafe China owner Harry Sou said he had started receiving formal cancellations from Chinese tour group companies on Saturday night.
“Since then we’ve had thousands of them cancel and we predict that, for the next few months at least, we’re not going to see them [group bookings],” Mr Sou said.
“Chinese travellers are a big influence on our budget every year — they’re a significant part of our business — and certainly our business model allows for a very large percentage of preparation for them — this is very, very scary.”
Mr Sou said if the travel ban continued he could be forced to reduce staffing levels and restructure his menu.
“We traditionally employ extra staff to serve the Chinese market, so I won’t be surprised if a lot of jobs will change in the next few weeks because we won’t need as many of them,” Mr Sou said.
“Our menu is prepared in such a way that we are prepared to cater for a large number of Chinese on a daily basis.
“That will need to be amended and the menu will need to be rewritten.”
Brian Hennessy from Sunlover Reef Cruises said Chinese group travel made up about 20 per cent of the company’s clientele.
“There’s no doubt that we’ve seen cancellations in the last 48 hours,” he said.
“At this stage it’s probably about 10 per cent of our group travel business but as this goes on, that may well rise.”
Bundaberg Regional Council has also delayed the visit of 45 Chinese delegates to the city because of concerns over coronavirus.
Mayor Jack Dempsey said a number of them were dancers from different areas in China who were supposed to be involved in Bundaberg’s Chinese New Year Celebrations.
“I wrote to the Mayor of Nanning, which has about 45 million people in that particular province, to postpone their trip to Bundaberg,” he said.
“Even though Nanning isn’t directly affected, those people are going backwards and forwards through major airports.”
School attendances down
Meanwhile, coronavirus fears has also caused a significant drop in attendance for the first day of school at Sunnybank Hills State School on Brisbane’s southside, which has a high number of Chinese-Australian students.
In an email to parents, principal Geoff Mill said he supported the move by some parents to keep their children at home for the first two weeks of term.
“A growing number of parents have advised me that they have made the decision to keep their child home … until more is known about the status of the virus,” Mr Mill said.
“This will also provide another week of incubation to help identify if in fact anyone from our school is carrying the virus.”
He also encouraged parents to keep their children at home if they had recently returned from China.
“I have been contacted by some families who are returning from China this week … they have advised me that they will be voluntarily staying home for the first two weeks of school,” Mr Mill said.
“I equally encourage any other families returning from China to follow their example and to voluntarily stay home.
“For all of these children, their absence from school will be approved and our teachers will adjust their learning programs to cater for the late start.”
However, the Department of Education said students in Queensland should continue to attend classes unless they were feeling unwell after having recently travelled to China in the last 14 days.
Brisbane Catholic Education asked students and adults who had been travelling in high-risk areas or who had contact with people from Wuhan or Hubei province and had flu-like symptoms, not to attend school until they had been cleared by a medical professional.
Study tour groups postponed on Gold Coast
The outbreak has also forced groups of students from China to postpone plans to visit the Gold Coast.
More than 2,000 Chinese students tour the city’s schools and tertiary education facilities each year and another 4,000 are completing courses in the tourist capital.
Study Gold Coast CEO Alfred Slowgrove said one of the study tour groups that was due to arrive this week was from Wuhan province — the epicentre of the virus in China.
“We did have some study tour groups booked in to be coming out this week that have been placed on hold,” he said.
“There are some students that were booked in to commence at high schools that have not been able to make it out.
“Some schools have communicated out to schools and to homestay parents looking after young people from China saying ‘don’t present at the school for the next two weeks and make sure you have not contracted anything before you come into the schools’.
“The Bureau of Education in China is telling us they have not had many instances of people from particular groups that were coming out that have been affected, however they are just being very vigilant in terms of the larger study tour groups that are travelling all over the world.
“It is not just the Gold Coast — it is all over that world that is being affected and impacted.”
Australians are being told to reconsider any plans to travel to China due to concerns about the coronavirus outbreak, with the Government’s Smart Traveller website upgrading its travel advisory warning for the rest of China.