China virus timing bad for tourism sector

Australia's tourism and international education sectors have been hit by the coronavirus fallout .
Australia's tourism and international education sectors have been hit by the coronavirus fallout .

Australia's crucial tourism sector says it has been hit by the "terrifying double whammy" of the nation's unprecedented bushfires and outbreak of the deadly coronavirus in their biggest market China.

China became Australia's biggest source of tourist numbers and spending 18 months ago, with 1.4 million visitors last year accounting for $12.3 billion out of the $45 billion international tourism market.

Each Chinese visitor spent more than $8000.

While the widespread bushfires had already affected tourism business, the virus which has killed more than 100 people in China, locked down parts of the country and stopped group travel has compounded the downturn.

"This is a terrifying double whammy for the Australian tourism industry," Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond told AAP.

"The massive bushfires down the eastern seaboard and into South Australia have radically affected the domestic market, small businesses are directly affected and it has also had a devastating affect on our international reputation and people's willingness to travel here.

"We represent more jobs than agriculture and mining put together, tourism is one of the top three money spinners for the economy."

The timing is particularly bad coming during the Lunar New Year holiday period when a majority of Chinese tourists do their travelling, Ms Osmond said.

She said a priority was understanding the implications for businesses, as the share prices of airlines and other tourism exposed businesses plunge on Wall St.

"We're fortunate in Australia because we do have systems and processes that are very robust in terms of quarantine," she said.

As well as tourism, more than 165,000 full fee-paying Chinese students enrolled in Australian universities contribute $15 billion a year - also the biggest market, plus thousands of school age children.

Many visitors to Australia are the families of these students.

International students and tourism represent Australia's third and fifth biggest export markets and the largest non-resources sectors.

The Chinese government has put part of the country in lockdown following the deaths of at least 106 people, quarantining multiple cities with a total population of more than 45 million.

It also stopped all group travel out of China for the time being, which represents nearly half of Chinese tourists and conferences and other business events.

Tourism Accommodation Australia CEO Michael Johnson said the sector was working with the NSW and Federal Governments on recovery programs including the "Holiday Here This Year" campaign.

"Our industry is resilient and we will work through this together."

Australian Associated Press