Coronavirus, bushfires and drought impact on Port Stephens tourism

IMPACT: Imagine Cruises owner Frank Future said business was down 25-30 per cent on last year's figures.
IMPACT: Imagine Cruises owner Frank Future said business was down 25-30 per cent on last year's figures.

The Port Stephens tourism industry is in the grip of uncertainty as the fallout from the coronavirus and a bushfire and drought-ravaged nation bites into visitor numbers.

The two-pronged impact has a number of the Port's leading tourism operators nervous in the lead-up to what is generally a lucrative Easter and April school holiday period, with the real possibility of the loss of millions of tourist dollars in the coming months.

Destination Port Stephens CEO Eileen Gilliland said that the impacts of the quickly spreading virus and the worldwide media coverage of Australia's 'summer of bushfires' was biting into the wider Port economy.

"Chinese tourists are a big drawcard in the international tourist market in Port Stephens, and there is little doubt the coronavirus will impact on daytime and overnight visitors," Ms Gilliland said.

"Along with the spread of the virus is the overseas media coverage of the bushfires ... so people are not traveling as much. It is time of instability for Port tourism."

But Ms Gilliland says it's not all doom and gloom. "While the Chinese market is important to us we still have a lot of international visitors from other Asian nations including Korea and Malaysia, plus USA and Europe. We hope to target these markets in the coming weeks."

The Port's two leading cruise operators - Imagine Cruises and Moonshadow-TQC - are among the most severely impacted. There are reports of cancellations numbering in excess of 2000.

Imagine's owner Frank Future said that business was down 25-30 per cent on last year's figures and the lowest since the Global Financial Crises ended in 2009.

"We have been severely impacted due to the bushfires and drought. We have noticed a downturn in the number of visitors doing adventures tours, who traditionally have come from western NSW. We are yet to feel the effects of the virus," Mr Future said.


Mel Turner, Moonshadow's business development manager, has pleaded with locals to support the industry in its time of need.

"Moonshadow-TQC, along with many other operators in Port Stephens, have worked tirelessly over the last 40 years to become one of the most recognised products on the NSW east coast within the Asian markets including China, South Korea and Japan," she said.

"It has and continues to grow and is an integral part of our business and are other operators such as sand dunes adventures, food outlets and local suppliers.

"Tourism Australia data suggests $45.2 billion dollars is contributed to the national tourism economy from the China market which inevitably filters through to our regional destinations. Events such as the coronavirus and the bushfires will undoubtedly have an effect."

Ms Turner said it was more important than ever to ring out the message that "Port Stephens is open for business".

"Our beautiful, big, blue water paradise is in her element this season. As with other regions effected by bushfires, we ask for support from our visitors, new and return and of course our locals. If you are bringing family and friends to Port Stephens, get out and about. Show them our beautiful incredible back yard," she said.

Meanwhile, Hunter New England Health's public health physician Dr David Durrheim has confirmed that there had been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Port Stephens, or in fact in the entire regional NSW. He said that screening for the virus would continue as necessary.

Newcastle University continues to update its advice on coronavirus in line with NSW Health. Updates at: newcastle.edu.au/alerts.

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