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Coronavirus flight cancellations leave Chinese tourists stranded in Cairns


February 03, 2020 13:07:09

Scores of Chinese tourists are stranded in Far North Queensland after direct flights between Cairns and China were cancelled over the weekend amid ongoing concerns about the spread of coronavirus.

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Key points:

  • Chinese visitors bring $30 million a month to Far North Queensland
  • The region is suffering a massive number of visitor cancellations
  • Gold Coast tourism is also being hit hard, Minister Kate Jones says

About 100 passengers have been impacted by Hainan Airlines cancelling flights between Cairns and Shenzhen.

Tourism Tropical North Queensland CEO Mark Olsen said operators had provided free and discounted activities to those left stranded, and some passengers had opted to go to other international ports to catch a flight home.

Mr Olsen said the virus had thrown the region’s billion-dollar tourism industry into “turmoil”.

He said Chinese tourists pumped about $30 million a month into the Far North Queensland economy.

“We’ve never been in this situation before, there are no comparatives and therefore there is no simple solution,” Mr Olsen said.

“There’s already been more than 25,000 direct cancellations of experiences and accommodation [bookings] here in the region.”

“Our thoughts are with those who are trying to get home, but we are also conscious that our industry is hurting.”

He said he would like to see state and federal government support for small and medium businesses impacted by the cancellation of flights.

“Nine out of 10 businesses in tourism are small to medium enterprises and they are feeling an incredible financial strain at the moment,” Mr Olsen said.

At the Cairns reef fleet terminal, Cairns-based Chinese tour guide We We said she had been looking after a group of Chinese tourists left stranded.

Wearing a surgical mask, she said the group was going on a reef trip and would eventually get back home by flying first to Hong Kong and then Shanghai.

“They are in Australia so they feel safe, but they are a bit worried about going back to China — they will wear masks on the plane,” she said.

Queensland Tourism Minister Kate Jones said the Gold Coast would also be hard hit by restrictions imposed on travel from China.

China has been the city’s top international market, with more than a quarter of a million Chinese visitors a year.

Ms Jones said campaigns were being launched to encourage Queenslanders to holiday locally.

“In a Queensland context we know Gold Coast and Cairns will be hardest hit when it comes to Chinese travellers, they represent such large contributions to tourism market. I’ve been in constant contact with Gold Coast tourism, they’re already rolling out their campaign,” she said.

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