What can save our tourism from viral effect
QUEENSLAND'S tourism industry faces its greatest challenge since the SARS crisis 17 years ago, amid renewed calls for travellers to take a holiday in their own back yard.
As the share value of Aussie companies plummeted in a $25 billion disaster for the Australian Stock Exchange, tourism leaders warned of the "very serious threat" posed by the coronavirus epidemic, which has left more than 100 people dead and forced China to issue extraordinary travel bans.
The crisis hit home on the Gold Coast yesterday, as emergency services swarmed on a luxury resort after a Chinese guest reported symptoms consistent with the virus. They were taken to hospital in a stable condition.
China is Queensland's biggest tourism market, and the decision to suspend group tour travel at the height of the Chinese New Year holiday period will wipe millions of dollars from an industry already reeling from drought and fires.
In the year to September, almost 500,000 Chinese travellers visited Queensland, injecting over $1.5 billion into the state's economy.
About a quarter of China's visitors to Australia would be affected by the group travel ban.
Queensland Tourism Industry Council CEO Daniel Gschwind said the coronavirus crisis had come as operators try to bounce back from a series of natural disasters.
Tourism Australia last week launched an aggressive 'Holiday Here' campaign to encourage Aussie travellers to visit towns ravaged by bushfires, but the call takes on even greater urgency as the threat of coronavirus looms.
"It's the worst possible timing, it follows the catastrophic impact of the bushfires and drought and now the threat of the coronavirus on top of that," Mr Gschwind said.
"It's probably the biggest challenge for the industry since SARS (in 2003) which had a catastrophic impact on tourism.
"It's a very serious threat for our tourism industry and the economy."
Bob Brett was in charge of Gold Coast Tourism during the SARS epidemic and said the coronavirus outbreak could be even worse.
"It's got the potential to have far greater ramifications than SARS did," he said.
"SARS never saw the sort of travel restrictions that we're seeing with the Chinese government now.
"It's hard to say what sort of impact it will have in the long term, but it's obviously a major concern."
Tourism and Events Queensland CEO Leanne Coddington said she was keeping a close eye on the unfolding situation.
"We are under no illusions that Queensland's tourism industry, already dealing with the impacts of the bushfire crisis, is now facing another threat," she said.
"It is too early to say how severe that impact will be, but we're working closely with Tourism Australia and our key industry and airline partners to better understand the full ramifications.
"It is a rapidly evolving situation and TEQ is monitoring the latest information closely and providing industry with as much accurate and up-to-date information as possible.
"We're also continuing to market Queensland in our key international markets, such as the US, Japan and Europe where we have seen strong recent growth."
Queensland Tourism Minister Kate Jones said: "It's never been more important for Queenslanders to holiday at home.
"If you're taking a break in the next month or two, do it in Queensland… I can say you should do it for your country, do it for your state, do it for yourself."
The magnitude of the potential threat was on full display on the Gold Coast yesterday, when police and ambulance personnel turned out at Peppers Broadbeach resort to treat a Chinese tourist displaying possible symptoms of the virus.
A person was taken to hospital in a stable condition.
Several tourists on the Gold Coast have been suspected of carrying the virus over the past few days, but all have returned negative test results with four cases so far confirmed across the country.
Aussie travel companies were amongst those hardest hit on the stock markets, with Qantas and Flight Centre suffering significant losses in the worst day of trade this year.
The ASX200 dropped almost 100 points, or 1.4 per cent of its value, just a fortnight after hitting record highs.