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The Chinese government has banned international group travel to contain the coronavirus, hurting Australian tourism

Jack Derwin
  • The Chinese government has taken the unprecedented step of banning its citizens from international group travel as it tries to contain the Wuhan coronavirus.
  • The safety measure could have a wide-ranging impact on Australia which depends on Chinese tourism, its biggest inbound market, and of which a quarter of visitors come as part of a tour.
  • Although the ban doesn't include individual travellers or exisiting tour group bookings, it has already led to a string of cancellations.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

More grim news for Australia's tourism industry.

Effective Monday, the Chinese government has taken the unprecedented step of banning Chinese groups from booking overseas travel, according to tourism industry reports.

The measure threatens a tourism sector and an economy already weakened by the bushfire crisis. Tourism Australia data suggests more than a quarter of all Chinese tourism – Australia's largest inbound market – come as part of a tour group. To put that in perspective, the Chinese tour group segment alone constitutes 350,000 annual visitors who spend in the region of $4 billion.

Cruise companies appear to be some of the first operators to be affected immediately suspending operations in mainland China and cancelling a string of booked cruises in late January and early February, according to Cruise Industry News. The stock prices of international airlines and hotels have also suffered as fears grow that about the impact of reduced business.

While the ban doesn't apply to independent travellers and existing tour bookings, partly shielding Australian hotels and the like from the fallout, it is clearly already wreaking havoc for holidaymakers. The Chinese government also hasn't indicated how long the prohibition will last.

Proving when it rains it pours, it's just the latest piece of bad news for Australia's tourism sector, which was already expected to suffer as disastrous bushfires ravage the country. Early analysis has put the potential cost of the Wuhan virus to Australia at more than $2 billion, but just how big or little its impact remains difficult to gauge.

READ MORE: The Wuhan coronavirus could cost Australia's economy over $2 billion, as its spread blitzes global markets

On Monday, Chinese state media had confirmed coronavirus had killed 106 people and infected more than 4,500 others. There are five cases confirmed in both the US and Australia.

It will come as little consolation but one surprising source of support may come from the fact that the coronavirus – combined with bushfires – has disproportionately hurt the Australian dollar, potentially encouraging both domestic and international travel.

Across the pond, US President Donald Trump appears to be under some political pressure to implement an inbound travel ban of his own, as a senator quizzed his cabinet on how one would be implemented.

The city of Wuhan has been quarantined along with at least another 11 cities, placing some 33 million people in lockdown as the China's central government tries to control the virus' spread. The impact of such measures combined with general anxiety has cannonballed domestic celebrations, with photos showing how locals are choosing to stay home instead.

It'll be a mammoth job to coax them out again once the dust settles.