How is the Coronavirus affecting tourism in Queensland?

What is the Coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a group of respiratory viruses that include both the mild common cold and other more severe illnesses such as SARS.  In December 2019, a new coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan in eastern China.


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Symptoms include fever, dry cough, shortness of breath and in some cases can develop into more severe illness such as pneumonia. The elderly and infirm are the most at risk and as yet a vaccine has not been discovered which has resulted in travel bans across the world as governments attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

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How will the Chinese travel ban affect Queensland tourism?


According to Deloitte, China is Queensland’s largest international tourism market with 500,000 Chinese visitors each year. Destinations such as Cairns and the Gold Coast are particularly popular with Chinese tourists and will feel the effect of the travel ban the hardest, according to experienced hotel analyst, Dean Dransfield. In fact, Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk stated that Cairns had lost $200m worth of bookings by early February, and the Gold Coast is forecasting losses of $400m. In reaction to the travel ban, Qantas Airways has frozen its two direct flights to China from the 9th February to the 29th March.

The ban came at a time that usually marks a peak period, coinciding with the 2 weeks following Chinese New Year. This resulted in a serious downturn for resorts, hotels and restaurants that usually cater for Chinese tour groups. These operators, such as Cafe China, have reported 1000’s of cancellations and have concerns that if this trend continues, this could lead to reduced staffing levels and dramatic operational changes.

CEO of Tourism Tropical North Queensland, Mark Olsen explained that the members of his group had experienced over 1,000 cancellation in January alone and is asking the State Government to dedicate extra marketing funds to be put into place to widen target markets.

There are other less obvious groups which have also cancelled their travel plans. Many study groups visit Queensland from China to tour the education facilities and some students from China have been forced to stay at home. Performers from China who visit Queensland, particularly for the Chinese New Year were also forced to cancel.

How will the Coronavirus cases in Queensland affect tourism?

The 5 confirmed cases in Queensland will give some holidaymakers pause and could cause them to cancel or rethink their holiday plans, however the Queensland Government has a fact sheet in place with transparent information that should reassure travellers and locals alike.

By following the below recommendations from the World Health Organisation tourists should feel safe to travel in Queensland:

  • Frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water
  • When coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw the tissue away immediately and wash hands
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever and cough;
  • Seek early medical help if you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing.

What is being done to support Queensland tourism?

The November marketing initiative launched by the Queensland government to encourage visitors to the Great Barrier Reef is well underway and will help to increase bookings from Europe for tourists looking to escape the Winter.

The bushfires also resulted in marketing campaigns to encourage both international and domestic tourists to Queensland and these can be extended to support Queensland tourism. For example, after the bushfires, Tourism Tropical North Queensland began working with Tourism Australia to encourage Australian visitors via their ‘Holiday Here This Year’ communications.

What is the outlook for Queensland tourism?

Although it is early days and no predictions can be made about this crisis, Michael Healy, the Cairns MP has concerns that the Coronavirus will be more damaging than the SARS outbreak of 2002, the effect of which was described by Mr Dransfield as a “short and sharp”.

Although the decrease in Chinese tourism will no doubt have a serious effect, the Queensland tourism industry experienced and recovered from the effects of the SARS virus and will be able to use that knowledge to plan a recovery. China has also reacted faster to the Coronavirus and is proactively sharing all the necessary information globally. Director of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute, Wolfgang Georg Arlt remains hopeful; “if it’s somewhat similar to SARS, then things could go back to normal around early or mid-April… during SARS, actually most of these trips were just postponed. After the SARS crisis ended, the numbers jumped again.”

Furthermore, the partnership with Tourism Australia and the marketing focus on European and domestic visitors which is already in place will go a long way towards reversing the downturn in Queensland tourist numbers.

The New Zealand tourist market is also of interest. Destination Gold Coast CEO, Annaliese Battista said that their plans include extra investment into the New Zealand market as well as keeping close relationships with China in order to welcome them back at the end of the ban.

The reaction of Queensland operators to stranded Chinese tourists will help to boost the reputation of the state once the travel ban is lifted. Many operators have been offering free or discounted services to stranded travellers despite being under financial strain themselves and the majority of operators have given cancellations full refunds with no penalties.

Politicians such as Jackie Trad, the deputy Premier of Queensland, are pushing for the government to call emergency meetings to create a response plan so every state will be prepared to recover as quickly as possible from the effects of the Coronavirus.

The natural assets of this state are unlike anywhere else and as reported in the CSIRO paper on ‘The Future of Tourism in Queensland’, holidaying in beautiful, natural environments is on the increase, which will help to assuage the effects of the Coronavirus travel ban.

There is no doubt that the Coronavirus will cause a serious downturn in Queensland tourism. However Queensland does have many strong opportunities; from the domestic market and from alternative international markets such as Europe and New Zealand where marketing campaigns are already underway. Prominent public figures, governments and tourism organisations are already working together with plans and campaigns in place which could well result in a positive trend once the Coronavirus is contained and the travel ban is lifted.

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