Virus effect no puzzle for business

While Queenstown and Wanaka tourist organisations puzzle over the likely impact of the Government’s ban on Chinese tourists, Puzzling World, in Wanaka, is providing some strong clues.

Marketing manager Duncan Spear said yesterday cancellations from Chinese tourists so far had amounted to more than $8000.

‘‘Unfortunately, this is the tip of the iceberg.

Puzzling World marketing manager Duncan Spear reflects on the coronavirus effect on his business. Photo: Mark Price
Puzzling World marketing manager Duncan Spear reflects on the coronavirus effect on his business. Photo: Mark Price
‘‘Now that the borders have been closed to Chinese tourists coming in, I see that only getting worse, unfortunately.’’

Mr Spear said the value to Puzzling World of the Chinese market was ‘‘huge’’.

‘‘Over the year they might make up as much as 20% of our business.

‘‘At this time of year, Chinese New Year, it can be as much as 70% to 80% of the business.

‘‘So, for us, this crisis is certainly cutting a bit deep.’’

Mr Spear said the business was staffed to cope with normal numbers of Chinese customers, but he did not envisage laying off staff.

‘‘Like the Sars virus and other health scares we’ve had, they can be a short-term thing, but where this goes, who knows?’’

Wanaka car rental company owner and community board chairman Barry Bruce was pleased the Government planned to review every 48 hours its two-week ban on foreign nationals travelling from China.

While the ban did not affect his business greatly, he was aware of accommodation businesses receiving cancellations.

China is the fourth most important source of tourists for Queenstown and Wanaka businesses, overtaken only recently by increased demand from the United States.

In February last year, 17,000 travellers came to New Zealand from China.

Before the restrictions were imposed, Richard Lauder, chief executive of the South’s biggest tourism company, Wayfare, suggested the virus might cost it 10,000 customers a month.

Tourism Wanaka general manager James Helmore said yesterday he was in the process of ‘‘trying to understand’’ what the impact would be by contacting accommodation providers, cafe owners and activity providers.

‘‘The situation is moving quite quickly.’’

Destination Queenstown was also in the process of gathering information but expected a ‘‘significant’’ effect.

And Tourism Industry Aotearoa’s hotel sector regional representative Brian Howie said he would have a better feel of the effects later this week.

‘‘I would be playing some guessing games at the moment if I was going to try and tell you where it’s at.’’

Tourism New Zealand chief executive Stephen England-Hall said yesterday he would be hosting a webinar tomorrow ‘‘to talk about what we know so far and what we are doing in response’’.

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