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China ban threatens $3.5b market, but “not devastating”

New Zealand joined Australia and the US in banning all arrivals from China this week as it moved to protect the public from the threat of coronavirus.

Temporary entry restrictions have been placed on all foreign nationals travelling from, or transiting through, mainland China in an effort to prevent the disease entering Aotearoa.

New Zealand citizens and permanent residents will still be able to enter the country, as will their immediate family members, but will be required to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival.

But while exports of tourism and education to China generating almost $3.5b last year, or just over one percent of GDP, economists and industry insiders say he impact on the tourism industry should not be disastrous.

Westpac chief economist Dominck Stephens said this week that while some 9000 trips have been cancelled in February, the loss is ”not devastating” against the overall picture of 420,000 overseas visitors to Aotearoa in February last year.

Westpac predicts that over the first quarter of 2020, Chinese visitor arrivals will be down 40 per cent, amounting to a five per cent reduction in total arrivals for the quarter.

Tourism New Zealand chief executive Stephen England-Hall has described the potential hit as “quite significant from a Chinese market perspective.”

One casualty is this year’s Auckland Lantern Festival, organisers announcing the major event has been cancelled due to coronavirus.

Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) general manager for destination, Steve Armitage, said: “The decision to cancel this year’s Festival resulted from growing concerns within the community as to the timing of the event in relation to the evolving Novel Coronavirus situation.

“We fully respect the wishes of the Chinese community who have shared their culture and tradition with Aucklanders through the Lantern Festival for 21 years.

“We would like to thank our commercial partners, performers, volunteers, stallholders, local businesses and festival staff for their understanding.”

Launched in 2000 under the Asia New Zealand Foundation, the event’s planning is a year-long process and involves numerous stakeholders.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff described the festival as “a popular and much-anticipated fixture on Auckland’s events calendar”.

“It’s sad that the festival won’t be going ahead this year, but it’s important to respect the wishes of Auckland’s Chinese community, many of whom don’t feel it is appropriate to celebrate the festival given the ongoing coronavirus outbreak in China and its toll on life there,” he said.

“I look forward to the Lantern Festival returning to Auckland next year and its celebration of Chinese culture and Auckland’s multiculturism,” Mr Goff said.

Accom operators fear the impact of the coronavirus, coupled with the opening of some 1660 rooms across 13 hotels in 2020, will substantially impact their business.

But Scenic Hotel Group managing director Brendan Taylor told Stuff this week that while the hotel market faces a double whammy of over-supply and lower visitor numbers from China, the most important issue for hoteliers was for New Zealand to keep the borders clear of the virus.

“The hotel industry is a long-term game,” he said.

“Hopefully it will be a short-term blip and the world will get back to normal again, similar to after the Sars virus.”

Colliers International’s national director of hotels, Dean Humphries, said hoteliers were reporting the impact of coronavirus cancellations had not been significant so far, but they feared its effect on occupancy in February and March.

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Kate Jackson

Kate Jackson is the editor of Accomnews. You can reach her at any time with questions or submissions: editorial@accomnews.co.nz

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