On March 2, Perth-based newspaper The West Australian published an interview with regional tourism minister Paul Papalia in which he urged holidaymakers to explore the wonders of his state rather than venturing further afield. It was an attempt to save the Western Australian tourism industry, which is suffering from an absence of Chinese arrivals amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“Right now, the easiest thing we can do, the biggest thing we can do, is to get Western Australians to stop going to Bali,” Papalia told the paper. According to Tourism Western Australia statistics, in the year ending on September 2019, the state welcomed a record 987,700 international visitors. China was only the fifth-largest source market, accounting for 72,400 arrivals, but its citizens outspent all other nations, dropping A$347 million (US$230 million).
However, those numbers pale in comparison with domestic tourism data. In 2019, Western Australia’s almost 9 million intrastate visitors spent A$4.5 billion, averaging A$129 per person, per day. Papalia must be hoping that by convincing some of the 415,000 West Australians who visited Bali last year to holiday at home, the economic impact of the coronavirus – which has wreaked havoc on the tourism industry globally – will be minimised. And he is not alone in trying to drive domestic tourism.
Travel industry news website TTG Asia reported on March 6 that the Philippines had allocated US$8.2 million for a domestic travel campaign, while Malaysian citizens will be offered incentives including digital vouchers worth 100 ringgit (US$24) to use on domestic flights, trains and hotels, and personal income tax relief of up to 1,000 ringgit on expenditure related to domestic tourism. In Indonesia, more than 443 billion rupiah (US$31 million) will be granted as incentives to domestic tourists, according to The Jakarta Post.
First, though, tourists must overcome one particular side effect of the epidemic, so-called travel anxiety, or a fear that going anywhere will increase their chance of exposure to someone who has been infected (as well it might, but within reason). “Concerned traveller” Christina Pasco told American broadcaster CBS Los Angeles that she had changed her upcoming travel plans for that very reason. “I don’t really want to be exposed to the airport and people that I don’t know, I don’t know their hygiene, I don’t know where they’ve been,” she said. “The risk is too great.”
However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. On March 6, Bloomberg reported that reservations for domestic flights and hotels in the Middle Kingdom were recovering as confidence the coronavirus could be contained rose. Citing a statement released by online travel company Tongcheng-Elong, the report stated that hotel bookings for the last week of February were up 40 per cent on the previous week while daily bookings for domestic flights had surged 230 per cent from the indeterminate “lowest level” in February.
Of course, the upturn might also have something to do with the fact that airlines have implemented special offers, also known as “cabbage prices”, on domestic routes. Spring Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines and Chengdu Airlines were among the carriers advertising fares for as little as 29 yuan (US$4). Whatever keeps the economic cogs turning, eh?
According to OAG Aviation Worldwide data, Chinese airlines recently returned almost 3 million seats into scheduled service, most of them on domestic routes, following the 75 per cent drop in daily passenger traffic seen between January 25 and February 24, compared with the same period last year.
As for Hongkongers, the city’s diminutive footprint means there isn’t a whole lot of choice when it comes to novel domestic delights, especially as many attractions remain closed. There are, however, countless restaurants, bars, hotels and other businesses that need patrons to help keep them afloat, and country parks and beaches to fill the lungs with fresh(ish) air.
Nothing is impossible, the word itself says, “I’m possible!