QUIETER THAN USUAL: The number of people visiting the Great Ocean Road has already declined. Picture: Morgan Hancock

QUIETER THAN USUAL: The number of people visiting the Great Ocean Road has already declined. Picture: Morgan Hancock

Coronavirus impact hits regional tourism

Coronavirus impact hits regional Australian tourism

Prosperity
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Tourism operators in regional Australia are reeling over the potential impacts of the coronavirus.

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Tourism operators in regional Australia are reeling over the potential impacts of the coronavirus.

In the past decade, the number of visitors from China to Australia has increased fourfold from 355,000 in 2009 to 1.43 million in the period between July 2018 and June 2019.

Regional areas that rely heavily on tourism spending are scrambling to find ways to fill the growing number of vacancies they have at motels, bed-and-breakfasts and Airbnbs and tourism-attraction operators are already witnessing a downturn in trade.

In Victoria, a number of towns have experienced growth in recent years as more Chinese visitors choose to travel along the Great Ocean Road and take in the sights.

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Port Campbell Shopping owner Peter Field said he was extremely concerned about the impact the virus was having on his convenience store.

He said the outbreak couldn't have come at a worst time for the town, with Chinese visitors usually flocking to the area to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

Mr Field estimates trade has reduced by almost half to what it was at the same time last year. He has reduced his opening hours and fears the town will remain affected for the foreseeable future.

"The town is a lot quieter than usual," Mr Field said.

"I think everyone in the area would be concerned."

Youngsters celebrate the Lunar New Year at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat. Picture: supplied.

Youngsters celebrate the Lunar New Year at Sovereign Hill in Ballarat. Picture: supplied.

In Ballarat, operators of key tourism attractions Sovereign Hill, Ballarat Wildlife Park and Creswick Woollen Mills are fearing the worst.

Sovereign Hill is expecting cancellations of up to 70 per cent of Chinese visitors over the coming months.

Along with the spread of the virus is the overseas media coverage of the bushfires ... so people are not travelling as much. - Destination Port Stephens chief executive officer Eileen Gilliland

In Port Stephens, NSW, the absence of a number of Chinese visitors during the lucrative Easter and April school holiday period will likely result in the loss of millions of tourist dollars.

Destination Port Stephens chief executive officer Eileen Gilliland said the impacts of the virus were already being felt.

In addition to that, the industry has experienced a downturn in visitor numbers due to widespread travel concerns over Australia's "summer of bushfires".

"Along with the spread of the virus is the overseas media coverage of the bushfires ... so people are not travelling as much," Ms Gilliland said.

"It is a time of instability for Port [Stephens] tourism."

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Operators in other regional areas are waiting on tenterhooks to see if the spread of the virus is controlled sooner rather than later.

If not, they fear it will have a huge impact on their winter trade.

One such destination is Victoria's largest inland salt lake, Lake Tyrrell, which has become a burgeoning destination for Chinese visitors in the middle of the year.

Victoria's Tourism Minister Martin Pakula announced a $5 million campaign to promote the state to the world in the wake of the coronavirus and bushfires.

"The campaign will help to bring new tourists to Victoria in the important months that lie ahead," said Mr Pakula, with the NSW and Queensland governments also launching similar pushes to win back visitors.

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