• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Impacts of the bushfire crisis and coronavirus on Australian tourism; Inquiry into the sports funding program.
30 January 2020

Sandy Aloisi: Tourism operators are warning that a ban on international organised group tours by the Chinese government will push parts of the Australian tourism sector to the brink. It’s part of the country’s efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus and the move is expected to mean a drop of tens of thousands of international visitors to our shores every month. And of course it comes at a time when the sector is already reeling from the impact of the ongoing bushfire crisis.

The Federal Tourism Minister is Simon Birmingham and he joins us now. Minister, good morning. Thanks for your time.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Sandy. Thanks for the opportunity.

Sandy Aloisi: Well there are nearly one and a half million Chinese visitors to Australia every year I gather. How big an impact will it be on the sector with this ban on international organised group tours by China?

Simon Birmingham: Well Sandy, this is a very significant blow to the Australian tourism industry. The full extent of the economic scale and losses is impossible to predict at present because of course we don’t know how long this type of restriction on Chinese travel will go on for. We don’t know how much it will spread in terms of other travelers. We do know that the group tour market to Australia accounts for around one in four Chinese visitors to Australia. So it’s a very significant part of tourism offering but obviously that duration question and that spread of concern about travel out of China to other categories of visitors is something that is of great concern as well.

Sandy Aloisi: Indeed, and of course with the quarantine efforts continuing because everyone is trying to contain this virus, it might go on for quite a few months then, Minister.

Simon Birmingham: There is a real risk of that. We certainly know that Australia has some of the best practices in the world in terms of keeping firstly, Australians safe and preventing the spread of such disease in Australia and the success we had in managing the SARS outbreak is demonstration of that. And that’s the reason why we can also, with confidence, say to the rest of the world that we are a safe destination to visit and hopefully, those attributes continue to hold up for Australia and to keep our tourism industry in the best possible shape. But certainly, as you said in your introduction, this is a blow for the Australian tourism industry coming as it does on top of losses associated with bushfires.

Sandy Aloisi: Yeah. That’s a real double whammy and of course we have to suspend that campaign that was only I think active for about a week or so before the bushfire crisis hit. What about a figure on that bushfire crisis? Do you have any idea how that’s impacted on the tourism industry so far?

Simon Birmingham: Putting a precise figure on it is extraordinarily difficult but various industry estimates put the figure into the billions of dollars and I don’t dispute that that the cancellation of bookings that’s occurred in terms of holiday makers who had to be evacuated, others who cancelled in fire affected regions and then the cancellations that have happened elsewhere across the country, the downturn in booking of new international travel as well.

Now, that’s why we announced a $76 billion– $76 million investment package to try to stimulate tourism activity again starting first and foremost we’re trying to urge Australians to holiday here this year. That we really want Australians to think about the fact that the tourism industry in Australia is doing it tough in these circumstances. And that the best way you can help not only those fire affected regions but others who are feeling the effects of the international downturn in our visitor numbers is to make a booking and get out there and take your trip, your weekend getaway, your school holiday break somewhere around Australia.

Sandy Aloisi: So Minister, how difficult will it be, do you think, for the tourism sector to recover from this?

Simon Birmingham: The tourism sector will recover. We have an amazing product in Australia. Tourism operators themselves are such a key part of that; their wonderful personalities, their drive to show people the most positive and exciting time of their lives and we know that other markets, when they face significant hits, do recover. And globally, everyone did recover from SARS despite the fact there was a global downturn in travel.

In terms of other examples of crises to have hit markets, Japanese tourism is far bigger today than it was after Fukushima; US bounced back following September 11; Bali has come back following terrorist events and of course the volcanic activity. So there’s great resilience that shows in tourism visitation over time but that doesn’t [indistinct] negate the fact that in the short to medium term, there is a hit and it will hurt many businesses. And the reason we urge Australians to think about making bookings and travelling across the country is to ensure small businesses survive and to protect Australian jobs because around one in 13 Australian jobs relates to our tourism and hospitality industry. So booking your annual holiday somewhere across Australia this year could well be helping to save the job of other fellow Australians.

Sandy Aloisi: Indeed. And Minister, it would be remiss of me not to ask you given you are a Federal Government Minister, do we have any idea when the inquiry into the so-called sports rorts affair will be handed down? The Prime Minister did say sometime this week.

Simon Birmingham: The Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is undertaking that inquiry, so the head of the Independent Public Service and look at it entirely in his hands as to when he thinks he is a completed that in a full, thorough and impartial way and I wouldn’t want to politicise his work by seeking to comment on exactly when that will be complete. But I’m sure it will be done as quickly as he can.

Sandy Aloisi: Alright. Minister, thanks for your time.

Simon Birmingham: Thank you, Sandy.

Sandy Aloisi: Federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham there.