• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Coronavirus impact on tourism, Bridget McKenzie.
28 January 2020

Journalist:  The Chinese government’s decision, and how could- long could that travel suspension be in place?

Simon Birmingham:  Well our understanding is that China has determined to cancel tour groups coming out of China to all nations. Now that accounts – in Australia’s case – for around one in four Chinese travelers to Australia. But clearly the circumstances in China are serious, and we would anticipate that there would be many travelers outside of tour groups who may be reconsidering their travel plans as well. So this is a real blow to our tourism industry, and tragically comes on top of the stress the tourism industry is already facing as a result of the bushfire crisis.

Journalist:  How exactly do you expect this is going to affect Australian tourism?

Simon Birmingham:  This will be a blow to the Australian tourism industry coming on top of the negative impacts of the bushfires this year, and what it will mean is that our tourism operators, who employ around one in 13 Australians across the country are going to be doing it tough. And our message for Australians to consider holidaying here this year is ever more important now in terms of getting bookings into those Australian tourism providers, and making sure their businesses stay strong and their employees continue to have a job.

Journalist:  There was some reporting today about the effect that this is going to have on business and in terms of like how it’s going to hit the copper price and all of those kinds of resources sorts of sectors. Do we have some kinds of numbers exactly about the tourism sector? Or when are we going to see exactly how this is going to affect that really important industry?

Simon Birmingham:  It’s early days in terms of the impact of the coronavirus, and first and foremost quite rightly, everyone’s focus is on the public health and safety aspects related to it. The economic consequences will also be real. We know that many of our exporters are already feeling that in terms of the seafood sector, and others who have high quality produce that usually go to China as part of the Lunar New Year celebrations. Our Tourism providers are feeling the impact from the cancellation of bookings and likely downturn in future bookings. So all of these factors will flow through and that’s why it’s more important than ever that we continue to pursue new trade opportunities, whether it’s with Indonesia, the European Union, India or elsewhere. And also that we work very hard to make sure that Australians understand that tourism providers and businesses across the country are going to be doing it tough this year, and the best way to help them out is to make a booking for that weekend getaway, upcoming school holidays during the year, and make sure that you support Australian businesses to get through these tough times.

Journalist:  Beyond that messaging though and really reminding Australians about all of that, what else is the Government doing in response to what you’re saying is going to be a big blow on this sector?

Simon Birmingham:  We have already provided $76 million of funding for the tourism industry in response to the bushfire crisis. And that is on top of record funding already for Tourism Australia. We’ll now consult very closely with the tourism industry and where necessary, recalibrate our investments to promote Australia and promote Australian tourism, to make sure that we are getting the best possible bang for buck, to ensure that we are getting the greatest number of bookings to help our tourism providers through these tough times.

Journalist:  Do you have an idea of how long this is going to last? Is this going to be an affect we’re going to see for the rest of 2020 and/or beyond? Do you have some kind of idea on that?

Simon Birmingham: The duration of a crisis like this is impossible to predict. But we do know from experience in relation to the SARS outbreak that Australia has managed to weather these storms before, that our health and safety measures are well regarded to ensure that Australia remains not only a safe place to live, but also a safe country to visit. And that is a message that we’ll be making sure all of our potential tourists hear in the future.

Journalist:  Could you see in terms of when the SARS outbreak happened, how much things like the tourism sector were affected? Is that something we can draw on in terms of what to expect with this newest epidemic?

Simon Birmingham: There was a real downturn in relation to tourism, not only to Australia but the global tourism industry felt the hit of the SARS outbreak. And so we’d anticipate that globally there will be an impact on tourism as a result of the coronavirus, and what we’ll have to do in Australia is work as hard as we can to make sure that our tourism providers get through these tough times, and to build alternate markets for them, whether that’s Australians choosing to holiday here in Australia or other international markets that we can promote safe travel to Australia too.

Journalist: Just on the other news of the day. How comfortable are you that Minister McKenzie is going to stay in her position, or is it something that you’re concerned about?

Simon Birmingham:  There’s a proper process in place in relation to the independent head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet undertaking an analysis there, and it’s right that we all let him do his job and hand down his verdict on that without any political commentary.

Journalist: All right. Thank you.

Simon Birmingham:  Thank you.