Tourism operators are bracing for a ''significant'' hit from fallout from the coronavirus on the Chinese market with one economist forecasting a 5 per cent fall in overall tourist arrivals.
The Chinese government ban on travel by groups and flight and hotel package tourists covers up to 90 per cent of holidaymaker arrivals. More than 400,000 Chinese visit New Zealand a year, most on holiday and they spend over $1.5 billion, making them the second biggest market behind Australia.
Westpac chief economist Dominck Stephens said so far an estimated 9000 trips have already been cancelled in February.
• Coronavirus explained: How it differs from a regular flu
• Coronavirus: Suspected case of virus in Auckland hospital, health boss confirms
• Deadly coronavirus takes just 15 minutes to spread from person to person
• Coronavirus: Everything you need to know
While sharp, it was ''not devastating'' as this country had 420,000 overseas visitors in February last year.
Westpac was assuming all travel through the Chinese Tourism Bureau will be halted for two months, and about a quarter of independent travellers from China will cancel, and that there would be some cancellations from other countries.
"Based on those assumptions, over the next three months Chinese visitor arrivals would be down 40 per cent. That would amount to a 5 per cent reduction in total arrivals for the quarter," said Stephens.
These forecasts were based on what has already happened and what is already unavoidable. Tourism Minister Kelvin Davis said it was hard to tell what the overall impact of coronavirus was. Government officials and industry groups were gathering information now.
''The last thing the tourism sector needs is poorly informed decision making and bad advice.''
Asked about the possibility of financial help the minister said: ''It's too early to say whether that would be an option - it will be felt in different parts of the sector. (It's) such a broad industry we can't yet make those sorts of decisions.''
Domestic tourism made up more than half of the $41 billion industry and Davis said this would be unaffected.
''Hopefully this warm weather will continue and New Zealanders will think (to) go out and enjoy it. Support our tourism industry that way.''
A Tourism Industry Aotearoa spokeswoman said it had so far only had anecdotal feedback from a range of members.
''It all ranges from a couple cancelling out of a B&B to a tour operator losing tens of thousands of dollars in the short term.''
The impacts are widespread, she said and came as operators were battling back from a 9 per cent dip in the number of Chinese visitors during the past year.
"It is still going to affect the Chinese New Year period, alot of operators were expecting to have a boost over a couple of weeks,'' she said.
Tourism New Zealand chief executive Stephen England-Hall said his organisation's 16 staff in China had stopped promoting this country there.
''The potential impact is quite significant from a Chinese market perspective.''
However, Chinese visitors made up only 15 per cent of total tourist numbers. The global tourism business had faced pandemic threats before and when they were over, the market recovered quickly with a surge of numbers.
Some airlines, including Air New Zealand have scaled back or halted flights to China as demand starts to collapse.
For New Zealand it's not only the inbound market that has been hit.
A big operator taking groups from New Zealand on holiday to China has cancelled all tours there in February. Wendy Wu Tours says all clients have been contacted and advised to rebook for later in the year. New Zealanders are advised by the Government not to travel to Hubei, the province at the centre of the outbreak and that non-essential travel elsewhere in China should be avoided.
Many tourist attractions were closed due to the decision to extend the Chinese New Year holiday in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus.
One hotel group, Hilton, said it was focused on the wellbeing of guests and staff and had already announced a modification and cancellation waiver for all guests who plan to travel ot China throughout February. The same applied to guests travelling from China to Hilton hotels around the world.