This could be the end of the line for cruise ships


Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, University of South Australia

Stranded cruise ships have become a symbol of the COVID-19 pandemic. Passengers and crew are desperate to get off but the ports to which they’ve headed don’t want them.

It is no exaggeration to suggest this crisis could spell the end of the line for an industry already on the nose for its social, health and environmental problems.

Indeed the same business model at the root of those problems is the cause of its current crisis, in which ship operators have been accused of gross or even criminal negligence.

That model has to do with flags of convenience.

Flags of convenience mean ships operate in waters far from their “home” ports. Most are registered in Caribbean tax havens. Operating outside clear jurisdictions, wages are low and working conditions poor.

That so many ships have become floating coronavirus incubators also indicates poor health and safety protocols. An emergency plan for an infectious outbreak on a ship seems an obvious thing to have. Yet reports suggest improvised responses.

Now, with ports and entire nations ordering cruise ships away, flags of convenience have become an existential threat to crew, and the industry.

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Ships ordered away

The industry’s reputational crisis is demonstrated no better than in Australia, where 24 of the nation’s 61 confirmed COVID-19 deaths so far have come from cruise ships.

All 20 cruise ships still in Australian waters were ordered to leave last week, with Australian Border Force commissioner Michael Outram citing concerns the number of cases among crew would be “a big strain on the Australian health system”.




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Just one ship, the Ruby Princess. is linked to 18 deaths (and about 700 infections – roughly 10% of Australia’s total cases).

Deaths have also come from the Artenia, Voyager of the Seas, Celebrity Solistice and Ovation of the Seas.

The Ruby Princess was allowed to dock in Sydney on March 19. About 2,700 passengers disembarked without being tested, because New South Wales authorities believed there was low risk.

Police are now investigating possible criminal charges against the operator, Princess Cruises, for misleading authorities about the situation. (The ship has since been allowed to dock at Port Kembla, south of Sydney, with a fifth of more than 1,000 crew quarantined aboard showing virus-like symptoms).

There are also calls for a criminal negligence investigation of the operator of the Artania, in a weeks-long stand-off in Western Australian waters.

Most of the ship’s passengers were allowed to disembark and get charter flights home to Europe. But more than 400 people, mostly crew, remain on board, and the state government fears the number of coronavirus cases would overwhelm local hospitals.

“We’d like you to leave, we don’t want you in our port,” said West Australian premier Mark McGowan.

But where are they, and tens of thousands of crew workers on hundreds of other cruise ships around the world, to go?


Coronavirus update: follow the latest news in our weekly wrap.


Caribbean tax shelters

Consider the Artenia. The ship is owned by British cruise line P&O, chartered to a German company, operates out of Frankfurt and is registered in the Bahamas.

The Ruby Princess operates out of Australia but is registered in Bermuda. Its owner, Princess Cruises, is headquartered in California but also incorporated in Bermuda.

Most cruise ships are registered in a country different to ownership or operation. More than two-thirds (by tonnage) fly the flags of just three nations – the Bahamas, Panama and Bermuda.



Flags of convenience make the cruise ship industry one of the world’s least regulated, with owners and operators able to skirt more stringent workplace, health, safety and environmental rules.

For crew, particularly those in “lower level” service jobs, pay and conditions are poor. Many accept such conditions to earn money for their families. Hidden from view, even passengers can be oblivious to their conditions.

Incorporations of convenience

Both P&O and Princess Cruises are subsidiaries of the world’s biggest cruise company, Carnival Corporation, whose combined fleet of about 300 ships carries almost half the world’s cruising passengers



Carnival Corporation is headquartered in Miami, as are the second and third biggest cruise corporations, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian. But Carnival is incorporated in Panama, Norwegian in Bermuda, and Royal Caribbean in Liberia.

Now these “incorporations of convenience” threaten their survival. Their revenue has been cut to zero. The US government is offering no assistance because they’re foreign companies and their employees are spread across the world. Other governments are unlikely to do more.

Industry analysts say the big cruise operators have enough reserves to last six months. After that, if they don’t secure funding, they face going out of business.

Sailing into the sunset

If that happens, many will not mourn the loss.

Long before this crisis, the cruise ship industry was on the nose for its social and environment problems.

It has contributed to overtourism in places like Barcelona, Reykjavik, Dubrovnik and Venice. Its environmental record is appalling. Just last year Carnival paid $US20 million (A$28 million) to settle a US court case over it allowing its ships to dump rubbish in the ocean – something for which it has a previous criminal conviction.




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Now the industry’s carefully honed image of cruise ships offering the right balance between fun and security looks sunk.

Whatever remains after this crisis will need a complete overhaul.The Conversation

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As coronavirus hits holiday lettings, a shift to longer rentals could help many of us


Myfan Jordan, La Trobe University

Hidden within the coronavirus-devastated tourism market is a related impact: the loss of customers could be financially devastating for small investors who dominate short-term letting platforms such as Airbnb. After a decade of high returns, they may now wonder whether a return to the secure, if slightly less lucrative, long-term residential tenancy market is a safer bet. If investors shift from short-term letting to long-term rentals in search of greater security, this would benefit the growing numbers of Australians in rental housing.

With the coronavirus pandemic there are signs this is already happening. In Dublin, for example, a 64% rise in long-term rental properties has been reported this month. It’s thought landlords are withdrawing from short-term listing sites and offering properties on the rental market.

Until now, rising property prices have forced more Australians into long-term renting even as short-term letting has eaten into the supply of properties. Young adults once dominated the rental market. It’s fast becoming a more permanent solution for families and even for older Australians. One in three households now rent their homes.

So, with almost 350,000 Australian properties having been listed on Airbnb, the impact on local communities can be significant. The increase in short-term lettings has been linked to increasing homelessness.




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Why landlords will look for security

Beyond the immediate impact of coronavirus on tourism in Australia, it’s possible the increased risks in the holiday lettings market may provide the impetus to align the interests of landlords and tenants around longer-term tenure.

Despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison urging vacationers not to ask for refunds from struggling operators, the tourism downturn has introduced a new level of risk for hosts. Airbnb has enacted a policy of full refunds for cancellations, which is reported to be “completely obliterating smaller hosts”.

Other platforms are advising hosts to manage COVID-19 risk themselves. This leaves many investor-landlords navigating a complex, public health crisis largely on their own.

With some of our most popular destinations facing an existential crisis, the impacts on small business, working families and low-income Australians may be both obscured but far-reaching, as the Airbnb example shows. Big players in the tourism industry can lobby federal government for support. Individual agents in the share economy are largely unprotected.

To date, the home-share concept has been a winner for property investors. Holiday letting has largely moved on from the original Airbnb model of sharing one’s primary residence. Letting through digital platforms with access to a global market of tourists has brought high-rent, low-risk dividends for people with investment properties.

The coronavirus pandemic, however, is revealing cracks in the foundations of the holiday-letting model.




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What has happened to renters?

Research suggests the digital disruption of the holiday accommodation sector has had significant impacts on local renters. There is little doubt tourist demand through online letting platforms has reduced the supply and increased prices of long-term rental housing in Australia, particularly in parts of our capital cities.

Likewise in Europe, where one in four rental properties in some tourist destinations is now a holiday property. This has led some governments to introduce strict regulation. It includes licensing, fines and limits on the number of days a property can be let each year.

Australia has been slower to respond, despite observations that Airbnb is “impacting the rental market and … bringing the cost of housing up”. Even in Tasmania, which has the strongest market regulation, one in every 27 Hobart homes remains listed for short-term lease. Similarly, in Sydney and Melbourne, growth in the sector has driven up rental housing costs.




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In New South Wales, fines for unregistered holiday lets have increased by 500%. But councils struggle to enforce laws that landlords are either unaware of or actively avoid complying with.

Home ownership has become a privilege in Australia, one driving disadvantage among those who are locked out. For a single age pensioner, for example less than 1% of rental housing is affordable. And long-term rental housing stock is often of poor quality.

Time for a rethink

Australia’s rental housing system undeniably needs a rethink. The sector presents a growing problem for state and territory governments, in terms of both the supply of affordable rental properties and finding the right balance between landlord and tenant rights.




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Government measures to increase the availability of rental housing through tax incentives, such as negative gearing, are unfortunately not restricted to landlords who offer longer-term tenure. To date there has been little financial incentive to eschew the higher returns of the Airbnb model for the relative stability of residential tenancies.

In times of crisis, Australians pull together. During the summer bushfires, we saw Airbnb hosts offer emergency housing to displaced families. They recognised the critical importance of a safe and secure home – a sanctuary. We need to recognise this critical function of home beyond times of crisis, to ensure every Australian has a home for good.




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Per Capita’s Centre for Applied Policy in Positive Ageing is launching its Home for Good project in collaboration with The Australian Centre for Social Innovation today. You can read their policy brief on Australia’s private rental housing market here.The Conversation

Myfan Jordan, Associate, Health Ageing Research Group (HARG), La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Once the pandemic is over, we will return to a very different airline industry


Volodymyr Bilotkach, Singapore Institute of Technology

The airline industry will wear the scars of the coronavirus pandemic for a very long time.

On Thursday, Qantas announced it was grounding its entire international fleet. American Airlines suspended three quarters of its long haul international flights on Monday.

Significant demand shocks aren’t new to the airline industry. In this century alone it has weathered the storms caused by the 2001 September 11 attacks and the 2002-04 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome pandemic.

But we have never before seen a shock of this magnitude affecting the entire world for what looks as if it will be a very long time.




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So, will the airline industry be able to handle this predicament? What role will and should the governments play? And, when all this is over, what will have changed for good?

Many airlines can’t survive as they are

Right now the name of the game, not only for the airlines but for most businesses, is liquidity – having money regularly coming in through the door.

An otherwise-solvent enterprise incapable of securing sufficient liquidity to cover its current costs can be forced into bankruptcy, and extreme uncertainty doesn’t help.

Although the airline industry had a good decade overall, finishing each of the last ten years in the black, its profit margins remain low, and profitability differences between regions and carriers are rather high.

Most airlines only have enough cash reserves to cover a few months of their fixed costs (costs that have to be paid regardless of whether their planes are flying).

Three options

The dynamics of the disease spread suggest that the extreme disruption we are seeing will stay with us for many months.

Governments will have to make hard decisions.

Broadly, they’ve three options

  • let the struggling private airlines fall

  • offer them liquidity to help weather the storm

  • nationalise them, as the Italian government already has with Alitalia

I expect governments to use (and misuse) all three, with a significant number of small airlines (and potentially several mid-sized airlines) going out of business in the process.

The main argument that will be used for not allowing airlines to fail will be that connectivity will be an important driver of the post-crisis recovery.

This wider economic benefit will be emphasised by the governments that choose to bail out or nationalise their carriers.

Big airlines might get help, even if they’re weak

I expect larger carriers to receive priority treatment by governments based on the fact that they provide more connectivity, sometimes without regard to their long term viability.

This means that once the pandemic is over, travellers will likely find a more concentrated airline market, with fewer carriers in operation. A greater proportion of them will be government owned.

To start with, flight frequency will be lower and planes might be emptier, depending on the fleet mix the surviving airlines will use.




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Whether prices will be higher or lower will depend on the interplay of demand and supply.

Fewer airlines and fewer flights would tend to drive airfares up, while lower demand and lower fuel prices after what is shaping up to be a global recession would drive airfares down.

Smaller airlines might miss out on government support.
DAN PELED/AAP

The net outcome is anyone’s guess. I also expect an acceleration of product unbundling (food, drinks, baggage allowances and so on being sold separately), especially if recovery is slow and surviving airlines will be under pressure to cut costs.

Last but not least, I should mention that it’s not only the airlines. Airports, aircraft manufacturers, and air navigation service providers will also find themselves under financial stress as demand evaporates.

The COVID-19 pandemic will stress-test the entire civil aviation industry, and when it is over – at least in the first months and maybe for years, the travelling public will return to an industry that has changed.The Conversation

Volodymyr Bilotkach, Associate Professor, Singapore Institute of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The end of global travel as we know it: an opportunity for sustainable tourism



Shutterstock

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, University of South Australia

Saturday, March 14 2020, is “The Day the World Stopped Travelling”, in the words of Rifat Ali, head of travel analytics company Skift.

That’s a little dramatic, perhaps, but every day since has brought us closer to it being reality.

The COVID-19 crisis has the global travel industry – “the most consequential industry in the world”, says Ali – in uncharted territory. Nations are shutting their borders. Airlines face bankruptcy. Ports are refusing entry to cruise ships, threatening the very basis of the cruise business model.

Associated hospitality, arts and cultural industries are threatened. Major events are being cancelled. Tourist seasons in many tourist destinations are collapsing. Vulnerable workers on casual, seasonal or gig contracts are suffering. It seems an epic disaster.

But is it?

Considering human activities need to change if we are to avoid the worst effects of human-induced climate change, the coronavirus crisis might offer us an unexpected opportunity.

Ali, like many others, wants recovery, “even if it takes a while to get back up and return to pre-coronavirus traveller numbers”.

But rather than try to return to business as usual as soon as possible, COVID-19 challenges us to think about the type of consumption that underpins the unsustainable ways of the travel and tourism industries.

Tourism dependency

Air travel features prominently in discussions about reducing carbon emissions. Even if commercial aviation accounts “only” for about 2.4% of all emissions from fossil-fuel use, flying is still how many of us in the industrialised world blow out our carbon footprints.




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But sustainability concerns in the travel and tourism sectors extend far beyond carbon emissions.

In many places tourism has grown beyond its sustainable bounds, to the detriment of local communities.

The overtourism of places like Venice, Barcelona and Reykjavik is one result. Cruise ships disgorge thousands of people for half-day visits that overwhelm the destination but leave little economic benefit.

Graffiti in Barcelona: ‘Tourists go home. Refugees welcome.’
Dunk/flickr, CC BY-SA

Cheap airline fares encourage weekend breaks in Europe that have inundated old cities such as Prague and Dubrovnik. The need for growth becomes self-perpetuating as tourism dependency locks communities into the system.

In a 2010 paper I argued the problem was tourism underpinned by what sociologist Leslie Sklair called the “culture-ideology of consumerism” – by which consumption patterns that were once the preserve of the rich became endemic.




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Tourism is embedded in that culture-ideology as an essential pillar to achieve endless economic growth. For instance, the Australian government prioritises tourism as a “supergrowth industry”, accounting for almost 10% of “exports” in 2017-18.

Out of crisis comes creativity

Many are desperate to ensure business continues as usual. “If people will not travel,” said Ariel Cohen of California-based business travel agency TripActions, “the economy will grind to a halt.”

COVID-19 is a radical wake-up call to this way of thinking. Even if Cohen is right, that economic reality now needs to change to accommodate the more pressing public health reality.

It is a big economic hit, but crisis invites creativity. Grounded business travellers are realising virtual business meetings work satisfactorily. Conferences are reorganising for virtual sessions. Arts and cultural events and institutions are turning to live streaming to connect with audiences.

In Italian cities under lockdown, residents have come out on their balconies to create music as a community.

Local cafes and food co-ops, including my local, are reaching out with support for the community’s marginalised and elderly to ensure they are not forgotten.

These responses challenge the atomised individualism that has gone hand in hand with the consumerism of travel and tourism. This public health crisis reminds us our well-being depends not on being consumers but on being part of a community.




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Staying closer to home could be a catalyst awakening us to the value of eating locally, travelling less and just slowing down and connecting to our community.

After this crisis passes, we might find the old business as usual less compelling. We might learn that not travelling long distances didn’t stop us travelling; it just enlivened us to the richness of local travel.The Conversation

Freya Higgins-Desbiolles, Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management, University of South Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

View from The Hill: Scott Morrison announces mandatory self-isolation for all overseas arrivals and gives up shaking hands


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy was still shaking hands on Sunday morning. But when that afternoon Scott Morrison announced the latest coronavirus measures, including compulsory self-isolation for overseas arrivals, the Prime Minister said he and other cabinet members wouldn’t be shaking hands anymore.

Only on Friday Morrison had been thrusting his hand at a notably wary Gladys Berejiklian.

Confusing signals.

On the other hand, this isn’t just a fast-moving situation, but one in which even experts have differing takes (the advice from the federal-state medical officers panel may be unanimous but it’s understood there are disputes in their deliberations), and politicians struggle with responses, even as they follow the medical recommendations. For example, the NSW government has appeared more forward-leaning than the feds.

While members of the public understandably seek certainty, on some fronts there will be no absolutes, just scales of assessment, probability, and risk.

That’s not to say the federal government should not have been clearer at times, and its mass media advertising campaign, which started at the weekend, was inexplicably slow to materialise.

The Australian tally of cases approached 300 and the death toll rose to five at the weekend. Only history will show definitely whether Murphy and the government are right in their claims Australia is keeping “ahead of the curve”, or the critics vindicated in arguing it is behind it.

Morrison in particular has wanted to put the most optimistic gloss on things, not least because he hoped to minimise economic disruption. Despite the constant flow of news conferences over recent weeks, the government avoided dwelling on how bad things could get.




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By Sunday Morrison’s tone had changed. He had a graph to illustrate the need to flatten the curve of infection to enable the health system (notably the intensive care facilities) to cope. “Slowing the spread, you free up the beds,” he said.


Federal Department of Health

Stark and unfolding realities were starting to prevail – though not entirely – over the prime ministerial desire to keep the lines upbeat.

And compulsion and the law were replacing choice and advice, in the measures Morrison outlined following Sunday’s meetings of cabinet’s national security committee and the new “national cabinet” of federal and state leaders (and after Morrison spoke at the weekend with Britain’s Boris Johnson and New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern).

Like New Zealand, Australia will now insist all arrivals self-isolate for a fortnight. The only exceptions will be Pacific Islanders who are transiting to their home countries. Morrison said this measure would be effective in “flattening the curve”.

As foreign travellers dry up, most incoming traffic will be Australians returning home.

Foreign cruise ships are to be stopped from arriving for 30 days in what will be a rolling ban.

The cessation of non-essential gatherings of 500 or more has moved from advice on Friday to a formal prohibition, which will be backed by state law. Morrison flagged the threshold could soon be lowered.

On the enforcement side he said: “the states and territories wisely are not going to create event police or social distancing police … But the legislation impact would mean that if a person did fail to observe the 14 day self-isolation or if an event was organised, that would be contrary, once those provisions are put in place, to state law”.

Berejiklian was quick to say NSW already had the powers to enforce self-isolation, emphasising what was involved “is a matter of life and death”. This recalled her strong language of a few days ago when she said the situation was “not business as usual”.

Work is underway on restrictions on visits to nursing homes and arrangements for indigenous communities as well as further restrictions on enclosed gatherings, which is likely to cut the 500 number. The “national cabinet” will review the position on Tuesday night.




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As for federal cabinet, it will be “social distancing” with “no more handshakes”, more meetings by video conferences, and less travelling. Morrison has already cancelled some engagements.

So far schools generally are not being closed (though some individual schools are shutting down). It’s said closing schools could promote community transmission, with children out and about. Many would be left with grandparents who would be in the most vulnerable age group. Also, if parents had to stay at home to care for their kids, this could deplete the health work force.

But the question of schools remains in the frame.

Arrangements for next week’s parliament are still being worked on, and the presiding officers have had talks with Murphy. The sitting is likely to be kept as short as needed to get through the legislation necessary for last week’s $17.6 billion stimulus package.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese in his Sunday night national address promised “a spirit of bipartisanship. We will be constructive. We will support the government to protect the health of Australians, but also to protect their jobs and our economy.”

The package was all about trying to head off a recession by keeping growth positive in the June quarter. As things are going, that looks like it could require a miracle as well as the package. Many small businesses will collapse, despite the help the government is offering.

Almost certainly, a lot more stimulus will be needed, with the question only the amount.

But a measure of how deep the crisis is becoming is that at the moment, the national conversation is mostly about health, not economics.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

NZ’s decision to close its borders will hurt tourism but it’s the right thing to do



Shutterstock

Siouxsie Wiles

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has done exactly what is needed to limit the spread of COVID-19 in New Zealand and the Pacific. Two new cases were confirmed today, just hours before new border restrictions come into force.

From midnight today, nobody (including residents) will be able to enter New Zealand without first going into 14 days of self-isolation. People arriving from Pacific Islands are the only exception to this new rule.

The new cases bring the total in New Zealand to eight. They have all been people who arrived from overseas – Iran, Italy, Denmark, the United States and Australia – or family members with whom they had extensive close contact. We should expect to see more cases in the days and weeks ahead.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the latest cases reinforce the new border restrictions.

Reducing the flow of people [with COVID-19] coming into New Zealand and ensuring that those who do arrive are required to immediately self-isolate are essential frontline tools in our response and in preventing wider outbreaks in New Zealand.

I expect it is going to take months or even years, rather than weeks, before the pandemic is contained because some other countries aren’t responding quickly enough. New Zealand’s new measures will hit tourism, but they are necessary to keep COVID-19 under control.




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The next line of defence

I use a fire analogy to describe how the COVID-10 pandemic is spreading around the world. Countries with community transmission of the virus – this list is growing by the day – are each a blazing fire. Anyone leaving these countries is a potential ember that can seed a fire somewhere else.

So far, New Zealand has done a good job of catching any burning embers and stamping them out. This is the role of contact tracing and self-isolation. But the median incubation period for the virus is around five to six days, with most people developing symptoms within 11 days, and we should expect more cases.

Ardern has seen the growing number of fires overseas. She has listened to experts telling her there will soon be too many embers to catch and she made the call to deploy the next line of defence: fire breaks.

This is the right move and follows that of Samoa which put travel restrictions in place very soon after the virus emerged. Our Pacific neighbours do not have the same resources New Zealand has to carry out contact tracing or treat the very ill.

It is only a few months since Samoa experienced an extensive and deadly outbreak of measles, which likely started when someone incubating the measles virus travelled to Samoa from New Zealand.




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Minimising spread New Zealand’s best chance

Many people are surprised by the strength of the measures. Apart from the entry restrictions through airports, cruise ships are also banned from coming to New Zealand until at least the end of June. As Ardern herself said the restrictions are among the most stringent in the world.

COVID-19 is a serious illness. From the outbreak in China we know about one in five people will need to be hospitalised. About one in 20 people will end up in intensive care, and one in a hundred will need a ventilator to help them breathe.

The reality is almost everybody in New Zealand is susceptible to catching the virus. While many of us will only experience a mild to moderate version of COVID-19, if the virus were to sweep New Zealand as it is other countries, we would not have enough hospital and intensive care beds or ventilators to care for those who need them.

Depending on a person’s age and whether they have any underlying health issues, we could see as few as four deaths in every thousand infected people under the age of 50, but as many as seven in every 50 people if they are over 80. People with diabetes and and high blood pressure are also more likely to experience a severe infection.

China built new hospitals in a matter of days and weeks to be able to care for the ill. In New Zealand, we are about to head into winter, the busiest season of the year for hospitals.

If COVID-19 took hold here, our medical staff could soon find themselves in the awful position of having to decide who gets a bed or a ventilator, as they are now considering in Italy.

New Zealand’s best chance to get through this unprecedented global crisis is to minimise the chances of the virus establishing here. Given we will remain susceptible to the virus, we may need to wait for the pandemic to burn out or until a vaccine is developed before life returns to normal.The Conversation

Siouxsie Wiles, Associate Professor in Microbiology and Infectious Diseases

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

This time is different: Australia’s tourist numbers may take years to recover


John Quiggin, The University of Queensland

Australia’s catastrophic bushfire season has done immense damage to Australia’s tourist industry. Then, just as heavy rain began to bring the situation under control, came the coronavirus outbreak in China – now the top source of international visitors to Australia. Tourism from China, already greatly reduced, ended with the ban on non-citizens travelling from China.




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The general assumption has been that, once the immediate crises are over, Australia’s tourist numbers will bounce back.

Optimists point to examples such as Japan following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people, resulted in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and forced more than 500,000 people to evacuate.

Tourism to Japan took a hit. International visits in 2011 fell 28%, to 6.2 million from 8.6 million in 2010. By the end of 2012, however, numbers were back to more than 8.3 million. Tourism to the devastated Fukushima region took a little longer to bounce back, but by fiscal 2015 had recovered to nearly 90% of numbers in fiscal 2010.

The same was true of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that wreaked catastrophic damage and killed an estimated 230,000 people in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and other countries in the Indian Ocean region.

Terrorist attacks in major cities have a similar immediate impact on travel, but this soon dissipates.

There are, however, good reasons to think this time is different.

Unprecedented duration

First, most disasters of this kind have been single-day events. Relief efforts and damage assessments can dominate the news for a week or more, but other events soon take their place.

By contrast, Australia’s bushfire emergency ran for months, generating extensive worldwide coverage for much of this time. The COVID-19 outbreak epidemic is still front-page news and will probably remain so until it has been contained.

Second, the typical shock of this kind has no long-term effect on perceptions of the country where it takes place. The vulnerability of the Pacific Rim to earthquakes and tsunamis has long been known, and the occurrence of an earthquake in Japan does not make another one any more likely (if anything the opposite).

Similarly, terrorist attacks can and do happen anywhere. While there are countries where terrorism risks discourage most tourists – Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria and Syria being the top four – in most of the world no possible destination is more or less at risk than any other, and the risk remains even if you stay at home.

By contrast, the bushfire cataclysm has been unprecedented in terms of duration and the areas in southeast Australia destroyed. Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra were all cloaked in smoke.

The image of Australia as a clean, green destination for outdoor fun – promoted in an advertising campaign in Britain featuring Kylie Minogue even as the disaster raged – has been replaced by burnt-out landscapes where the next fire may be even worse than the last.




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Celebrity concern about bushfires could do more harm than good. To help they need to put boots on the ground


The Australian government’s handling of the issue has added to negative perceptions. International coverage of the bushfires has repeatedly mentioned the “coal-loving” Australian government’s failure to deal with the fact its fossil fuel exports contribute to the conditions that make catastrophic fires more likely.

Washington Post columnist David Ickling put it like this:

It’s a rude dose of reality for Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a former tourism-promotion bureaucrat whose lackadaisical, image-obsessed initial response to the fires has caused him to be lampooned on social media as #scottyfrommarketing.

And yet a generation before Morrison came on the scene, Australia was already lying to itself and the world about its role in the climate change that has fuelled this disaster. If any goodness can sprout from the devastation of these fires, it will start with a more honest reckoning about how successive governments have sold off Australia’s future for a handful of coal.

Finally, the bushfires affected as many tourists as locals. The fires in southern New South Wales and eastern Victoria in particular trapped thousands of tourists taking Christmas-New Year holidays in normally pleasant seaside resorts.

This is not usually the case with disasters, with some exceptions. Most of the 202 people killed in the 2002 Bali bombings were tourists, for example, as were the majority of more than 4,000 people killed in Thailand by the Boxing Day tsunami.




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In fact, there’s plenty we can do to make future fires less likely


Memories will fade over time, at least until they are rekindled by another disaster. But we should not expect this to happen quickly. The damage the bushfire catastrophe has caused to Australia’s position in the international tourism market is likely to last for years to come.The Conversation

John Quiggin, Professor, School of Economics, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We depend so much more on Chinese travellers now. That makes the impact of this coronavirus novel


Mingming Cheng, Curtin University

Australia has joined New Zealand, the United States, Indonesia, India, Israel and other countries in deciding to refuse entry to all foreigners flying from or who have recently been in mainland China.

These bans dramatically escalate the potential economic impact of the novel coronavirus.




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Over the past two decades China has grown from a minnow to a whale in international travel. Not counting mainland Chinese visiting Hong Kong and Macau (about 76 million in 2018), data from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation show the number of Chinese going abroad climbed from 2.8 million in 1997 to about 73 million in 2018.

This places China fourth in terms of international visits, behind Germany (about 92 million), the United States (88 million) and Britain (74 million).

Rise of the Chinese traveller

Besides Hong Kong and Macau, Chinese travellers most visit neighbouring nations – Thailand, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Singapore. Next is Italy, then the United States and Malaysia.

Australia is somewhat down the list – just the 17th-most-popular destination for Chinese visitors in 2018 (1.4 million visits). New Zealand was the 26th (about 448,000).



But China is now Australia’s largest source of international visitors. Short-term arrivals from China overtook those from New Zealand (the top source for many decades) in 2017.



In the 12 months to November 2019, there were 1.44 million Chinese visitors to Australia, according to Tourism Australia. This was about 15% of the total 9.44 million short-term arrivals.

But Chinese visitors contributed relatively more to the Australian economy. The average spend per Chinese trip was $A9,235. This compared with $A5,943 for Germans, $A5,219 for Americans, $4,614 for Japanese and $A2,032 for New Zealanders.

This meant Chinese travellers contributed about A$12 billion to the Australian economy – or 27% of the total amount spent by all international visitors. International tourism accounts for about a quarter of Australia’s total tourism market. That means, in the greater scheme of things, Chinese travellers help create 0.6% of Australia’s annual GDP.

The student effect

The reason the Chinese spend (on average) so much more than other visitors is due to the large number of Chinese who come to Australia to study.

The Tourism Australia data show almost 275,000 of the 1.44 million Chinese visits – about 20% – were for educational purposes. By comparison, study was the reason for fewer than 14,000 – or less than 1% – of the 1.42 million visits by New Zealanders.




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Chinese students stayed an average of 124 nights before going home and spent an average of $27,000. This is more than any other nationality. The average spent by all international students was A$22,000.

Chinese tourists, on average, stayed an average of 14 days and spent A$4,655. The average for all international holidaymakers was A$4,286. The biggest-spending were the Italians (A$7,174), Germans (A$6,028) and British ($A6,011).

So Chinese students accounted for just shy of 58% – or A$7.1 billion – of all the money spent by Chinese visitors.

Ban impacts

Australia’s travel ban has come just in time to disrupt the plans of thousands of Chinese students coming or returning to Australia. February is normally the peak month for Chinese arrivals in Australia. In 2019, the month recorded 206,300 arrivals – roughly double the average month.

This is because this month is when many Chinese students arrive or return to Australia to start the university year. (It’s also due in part to the proximity of the Chinese lunar new year – January 25 this year, February 25 last year – when hundreds of thousands of Chinese travel for a holiday or to visit family.)




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Chinese students enrolled in Australian universities comprise 38% of all full-fee paying international students. With international students now contributing about 23% of university revenues, this suggests the Chinese market alone contributes about 9%.

More Chinese students come to Australia for vocational education and training or school. All up, Chinese students account for about 30% of total overseas student enrolments.



Long-term impacts

Our main point of reference for the economic impact of the coronavirus is the impact of SARS in late 2002. The Chinese government imposed similar travel restrictions to now. But Australia did not ban travellers from China outright. It instead relied on screening at airports.

In May 2003 just 3,100 Chinese visited Australia, a 75% decline on the 12,600 visitors in May 2002. Visitor numbers from other Asian countries also suffered, with the total number of international short-term arrivals falling 8.5% in April , then a further 2.6% in May.

But SARS was contained relatively quickly. By July the Chinese government had lifted its restrictions. The following month Chinese arrivals were back up to more than 12,000.


Chinese visitor arrivals during and after the SARS crisis.
Australian Bureau of Statistics

The economic impact of SARS was therefore “short-lived and limited”, according to the Australian Treasury.




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The economic impact of the novel coronavirus is shaping to be more signficant, based on the scale of crisis, the severity of travel restrictions, the likelihood travel bans will stay in place for longer and the much greater numbers of Chinese tourists and students on which Australia’s tourism and education industries have come to rely.The Conversation

Mingming Cheng, Senior Lecturer, School of Marketing, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why were tourists allowed on White Island?



The volcanic alert level on Whakaari/White Island remains at three, one rung higher than it was when the eruption took place.
AAP/GNS Science, CC BY-ND

Michael Lueck, Auckland University of Technology

Emergency crews have retrieved six bodies on Friday and continue to search for two further victims of Monday’s volcanic eruption at Whakaari/White Island.

The people on the island were tourists and tour guides, including visitors from Australia, the UK, China and Malaysia, along with New Zealanders. Several of the tourists were passengers from the cruise ship Ovation of the Seas.

There is a 50% chance the volcano will erupt again in the next 24 hours.
Michael Schade, CC BY-ND

GeoNet, which operates a geological hazard monitoring system, says there is still a 50-60% chance of an eruption occurring that could impact outside of the vent area within the next 24 hours.

But the question being asked now is why tourists were allowed on such a dangerous island. This will probably feature prominently in investigations – both by police and WorkSafe.




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Safety guidelines for volcano tours

White Island is privately owned, and only permitted operators are allowed to take tourists on guided tours. White Island Tours is one of the main operators in Whakatane, a township on the east coast of the North Island, and they had people on the island yesterday.

This operator has stringent safety checks and was even named New Zealand’s safest place to work in a workplace safety award last year.

But earlier this month, GeoNet had raised the alert level to two (out of five), due to “moderate and heightened volcanic unrest”. Should that have caused enough concern to discontinue tours to the island?

Hindsight is always 20/20, but any visit to an active volcano, or volcanic field bears a certain amount of risk, and usually it is managed by governmental bodies generally, and the tourism industry in particular.

The management, or lack thereof, varies by country and jurisdiction. Commonly, organisations such as GeoNet provide real time updates on volcanic activities and issue warnings of potential hazards. In the case of White Island, it falls ultimately to the operators to decide whether or not to send tours to the island on any given day.

Leading geo-tourism researcher Patricia Erfurt-Cooper notes there is a “distinct lack of safety guidelines for volcano tours at most sites, which is compounded by language problems”.

Management strategies include multi-lingual signage, such as in Japan, and the closure of active sites, such as in Hawaii.




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Often, volcanic geologists are able to read early signs of activity, and predict eruptions hours, if not days in advance. But this is not always the case, as we saw yesterday and in the 2007 eruption of Mount Ruapehu.

History of accidents in adventure tourism

Volcano tourism is a subset of adventure tourism, and New Zealand has had its fair share of incidents in this sector. Many will remember the collapse of a viewing platform at Cave Creek in 1995, where 14 people died. After the collapse, the Department of Conservation (DOC) inspected more than 500 structures, resulting in the closure of 65.

A commission of inquiry found a number of shortcomings in the building of the platform and DOC took responsibility for the accident. Since then, New Zealand law has changed so government departments can be held responsible and liable for negligence in offences under the Building Act.

Worldwide, there have been several deadly volcanic eruptions, including Japan’s Mount Ontake in 2014. This steam-driven eruption occurred without clear warning and killed 63 people hiking the mountain, in what became the country’s most deadly eruption in nearly 90 years.

In 2013, the eruption of Mayon volcano in the Philippines killed five climbers. Last year, one tourist died in an eruption of Italy’s Stromboli volcano, which has become a resort island.

Assessing risks

New Zealand promotes itself as the adventure capital of the world, and it is a fine balance for an operator to provide the (often advertised) excitement the thrill-seeking tourists are looking for, and the safety of everybody involved.

Research shows the majority of thrill-seekers are looking for risk, but in a controlled way. The adrenaline rush is paramount, but they don’t seriously want to be at risk of injury or loss of life.

The tragic events of White Island reiterate that we must be vigilant, and have excellent risk management strategies in place. Perhaps it is time for the tourism industry, government and volcanic experts to review current rules. We can minimise the risk, but we can never totally rule it out.

Any adventure tourist must be aware of the potential risk they are taking and should check the tour operator’s website for information about the risk they’d be undertaking, and how the tour operator plans to manage it. If the operator doesn’t have this information available – choose another one.The Conversation

Michael Lueck, Professor of Tourism, Auckland University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.