Australia’s business events sector has begun to feel the knock-on effects from airline disruptions as a result of the global Novel Coronavirus threat.
Reports of cancellations for incentive groups, as well as larger meetings have emerged, as the country moves out of the holiday season into the business events season. This comes as dozens of airlines around the world, including Qantas, suspend their routes to China for the weeks ahead.
Tourism Accommodation Australia’s CEO Michael Johnson told TTGmice: “The substantial amount of cancellations of groups from hotels is starting to affect our business sector, as groups and large conferences are starting to now reconsider travel.”
“(It could be) because there are Chinese delegations within that conference, but very sizeable conferences (are also) cancelling out of CBD locations…. I think the only thing that we have in our favour is that due to the bushfires, we have (already) been working closely with government on a recovery plan,” he continued.
Johnson added several “sizeable international conferences” scheduled for travel to Sydney have pulled out, but declined to elaborate further. When invited to respond, ICC Sydney said it received “minimal enquiries” from clients regarding upcoming bookings.
“At this stage, we have had a small number of events postponed or cancelled,” said ICC Sydney’s CEO, Geoff Donaghy. “We are working with these clients to find the best possible solution to their situations and are continuing to monitor the situation closely both at ICC Sydney and across the ASM Global group.”
Melbourne Convention Bureau is also reporting minimal impact, with CEO Julia Swanson pointing out that the corporate meeting and incentive sectors from China represent less than 10 per cent of their business mix, and in the meantime is urging any affected groups to reschedule rather than cancel their plans.
However, the situation appears more dire in the Gold Coast, where travel disruptions caused by the coronavirus is projected to cost at least A$40 million (US$27 million). “This could increase significantly, depending on how and when the coronavirus is contained, and the threat removed,” said Destination Gold Coast’s CEO Annaliese Battista.
“The (coronavirus) setback couldn’t have come at a worse time, with the temporary group travel ban coming into effect two days into the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday period. We are seeing widespread cancellations as a result, which is affecting our leisure and business events sectors. This is on top of a 20 per cent decrease in group bookings that we were already shouldering (from the bushfires),” she lamented, despite the Gold Coast being otherwise unaffected by the current bushfire season.
The Association of Australian Convention Bureaux (AACB) expects the coronavirus will continue to have an immediate impact until a vaccine is discovered and travel return to normal.
“There are approximately 250 international bids in play, where a host destination has not yet been selected,” said AACB CEO Andrew Hiebl. “Given the long-term nature of the business events industry, it is too early to tell the impact of Coronavirus on these decisions. (However) the business events industry relies upon the face-to-face nature of how we meet and do business. Any threat to this basic principle and restrictions placed upon it will have a devastating impact on our industry.”
In response, Australia has launched campaigns to encourage domestic tourism in both the leisure and business events markets to mitigate the twin impact of the bushfires and coronavirus.
Announced last week, the Event Here This Year campaign – supported by the A$76 million National Bushfire Recovery Fund – urges the local meetings sector to reconsider their conference destination choices to support the struggling tourism industry, which is still trying to assess and quantify the damage from both ongoing events.
The Event Here This Year campaign will run in parallel with Tourism Australia’s Holiday Here This Year campaign, directed at leisure travellers.
“(The dollar impact) will be a sizeable amount once that data becomes available, especially for businesses that are heavily involved with the China market. It has hit us at a (crucial) time and it turned off like a tap, so it can’t be replaced immediately. Every effort will go into minimising the impact, but in the immediate future, it’s going to have huge effects,” Johnson concluded.