Tourism 'bleak' in NSW as virus spreads

Steven Trask

Regional tourism operators desperate to rebound after the horror NSW bushfire season are now facing the "bleak" reality of the coronavirus pandemic.

Small businesses in bushfire-ravaged areas of NSW have been coming to grips with the lingering impacts of the black summer, estimated to have wiped $4.5 billion from the Australian tourism sector.

Now, just as visitor numbers have started to lift coming into the traditionally busy Easter period, tourism faces another significant downturn in the form of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Michael Thurston, the general manager of Destination North Coast NSW, says the short-term outlook for many tourism operators is dire.

"It's bleak. Events are being cancelled by the hour," he told AAP.

"Look at the travel industry up here. We entered the bushfire crisis in September, had about a month's reprieve, and now we've been hit by coronavirus. It's tough."

Many tourism operators had been "bullish" about Easter as Australians sought to help domestic business in the wake of the bushfires, Mr Thurston said.

"Everybody was being implored to holiday domestically. We were going to have a bumper Easter," he said.

"But this coronavirus has come through and decimated things.

"It's not just hotels and tour operators that are impacted, it's your local cafes and supermarkets and service stations. They all suffer."

Although there were tough times ahead, Mr Thurston said the tourism industry would be ready to bounce back once the spread of coronavirus died down.

"There already was that goodwill and people want to help.

"After a couple of weeks' of isolation people will be climbing the walls and keen to get out and get amongst it."

The Australian Tourism Export Council has estimated that reduced bookings caused by the bushfires would reduce tourism revenue by $4.5 billion.

ATEC managing director Peter Shelley says the coronavirus outbreak has struck another "significant blow".

"Australia's tourism industry is falling from a great high - a high that has been a big part of our economic success over the past 10 years."

South Coast Journeys owner Hamish Tucker says he is concerned about the longer-term impact of the virus on small businesses such as his.

"It's a tough situation to be in. Some people haven't demanded refunds and are happy to put credit towards a future tour, which well help weather the storm," he told AAP.

"I think I can survive for a few months, but after that it is looking pretty grim."

Mr Tucker said he was starting to seriously think about a Plan B, such as returning to his previous career of teaching.

"I am concerned. God bless all those teachers out there, because I might have to go back to teaching. That's a real scenario that I'm starting to contemplate."

Peter Counsell from Nelligen Kayak Hire says business had just started picking up following the bushfires.

"We had the fires, the floods and now we have coronavirus," he told AAP.

"I don't think the average person realises how much the virus is going to impact everyone and everything.

"It's not localised and it's not industry specific. It's not just tourism. It's everyone."