As fears of coronavirus stymie international tourism, New Zealanders are being urged to take a 'staycation' to support our own tourism industry.

In any other non-pandemic year, visitor numbers from China would be peaking about now, usually making up about 12 per cent of total arrivals into New Zealand. Because of the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent travel bans from mainland China, that figure is now at zero.

Tourism Industry Aotearoa says visitor arrivals have also softened from South Korea, Japan and other parts of Asia. Fortunately, according to the TIA, visitor numbers from New Zealand's other key markets, Australia and the US, are still holding up, however the industry is preparing for further knocks as the virus spreads.

While international travel to NZ takes a hit, demand for domestic travel remains strong. Photo / Jason Oxenham
While international travel to NZ takes a hit, demand for domestic travel remains strong. Photo / Jason Oxenham

TIA Chief executive Chris Roberts told Kerre McIvor on Newstalk ZB the outbreak is having a major impact on small businesses who service the Chinese visitor market, leaving them with no option but to shut up shop.


"We're hearing a lot of these small owner/operator businesses are basically just closing up their business and finding other means to survive as they wait this out," he says.

Bigger businesses are also taking a hit, losing tens of millions of dollars, but are more capable of riding it out over the long term, says Roberts.

Seasonal tourist workers brought in for the tourism peak are also finding themselves jobless as work dries up. But while it sounds dire, it's worth remembering the strength of New Zealand's domestic tourism.

"We've still got New Zealanders who are the bulk of our tourism industry," explains Roberts, who is encouraging Kiwis to enjoy the late summer/autumn period for a holiday in their own backyard. "Go to some of those places that are a bit quieter than you might have thought, because there aren't as many overseas visitors here."

And it seems Kiwis are keen to do exactly that, given how quickly they gobbled up Air New Zealand's $9 Grabaseat domestic airfares which went on sale this morning.

The airline placed 1000 $9 flights across 32 domestic routes from 9am in response to softening demand because of the virus, but by 10am they were all gone.

"That's going to encourage people to travel locally, which is great, so there's definitely an opportunity for New Zealanders to get out and support those tourism businesses by having another domestic break," says Roberts.

The same goes for the cruise industry. While some cruise ships are being refused entry at ports around the world, cruising around New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific is still a viable option.


Roberts says bookings on cruises around Australasia and the Pacific remain full and should be able to operate as normal.

"One or two of the Pacific Islands might be preventing people from coming in, but there is no reason not to get on a cruise ship around New Zealand, because there is no danger involved in doing that, despite what people are seeing through the news and in other parts of the world."

Official international travel advice for New Zealanders

Currently, China and Iran are the only countries with a "do not travel" warning in place for New Zealanders. Previously, China was the only country with that warning. The decision is being reviewed every 48 hours.

Mainland China includes all of China, but not Hong Kong SAR and Macau SAR, and not Taiwan.

According to the SafeTravel website, New Zealanders are also advised to "avoid non-essential travel" to Daegu and Cheongdo in South Korea, and for the rest of the country to "exercise increased caution".

For people booked on an upcoming cruise, SafeTravel recommends passengers contact their travel agent or cruise operator for the most up to date information.