28 Jan 2020

Tourism sector braces for sharp fall in Chinese visitors

6:04 pm on 28 January 2020

The impact of the coronavirus which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has led to nearly 3000 confirmed cases in 15 countries and may have a substantial impact on New Zealand tourism numbers.

Passengers from international flights at Auckland Airport on Monday 27 January, after flights from Guangzhou and Shanghai had touched down. Some people were wearing masks.

As these visitors arrive at Auckland Airport, one tourism operator is expecting to lose 10,000 Chinese tourists a month in the wake of the coronavirus. Photo: RNZ / Liu Chen

Although New Zealand is in the clear for now, the tourism sector could take a hit, with some operators already reporting cancellations in the wake of the outbreak.

Tourism business Wayfare chief executive Richard Lauder said there have been 650 cancellations so far. He said they're expecting to lose 10,000 guests a month until China lifts the suspension on overseas group tours.

"As the outbound travel agents in China start clearing all the schedules, as they're obliged to do, we'll see bigger blocks of tour groups being cancelled," he said.

About 30 flights operate between New Zealand and China each week. China's our second-largest international visitor market, according to Tourism NZ.

Lauder said it's a significant loss during the peak tourist season.

"The whole tourism industry has grown by about 50 percent in the last six years. A dip of 10 percent - that's what we anticipate it will be so it's like going back two years."

Chinese tourists

A sudden decrease in Chinese visitors may take the tourism sector back to the position it was in two years ago, one tourism manager says. Photo: RNZ

Destination general manager for the promotion agency Christchurch NZ, Loren Aberhart-Heaphy, agreed.

"We're likely to see several thousand fewer Chinese tourists to Christchurch in February alone... that will have an impact on some of our attractions and hotels."

New Zealand Chinese Travel and Tourism Association chair Simon Cheung said larger companies were more likely to feel the impact of the deadly outbreak, with "a lot of tours re-scheduling or cancelling".

But, he hoped it would only be a short-term battle for operators.

Tourism New Zealand's chief executive Stephen England-Hall said Chinese visitors made up 15 percent of total visitor arrivals, but said it was too soon to tell how it would impact the economy.

In a statement Ngāi Tahu Tourism chief executive Quinton Hall said he's seeing a number of cancellations from China from groups and, to a lesser extent, independent travellers but it's too early to tell how their business will be affected.

Meanwhile, Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis remained silent on the subject and refused RNZ's request for an interview.

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