The Restaurant Association is encouraging people to get out and support their local chinese restaurant. Photo: Aaron McLean

Support your local: Business in Auckland's Chinese restaurants down 60% over coronavirus fears

It's time to get out and support your local Chinese restaurant! "Irrational" fears of coronavirus in New Zealand have impacted some Auckland venues heavily, with business down by as much as 60%. 

A new member’s survey by Restaurant Association has revealed that Chinese restaurants in New Zealand are experiencing a downturn – and in at least one case, business is down by as much as 60% compared with the same period last year.

Another member has said they’re closing for two weeks. “This all carries serious impacts for businesses which would normally be reasonably busy,” says Marisa Bidosis, CEO of Restaurant Association. It’s notable, too, that this happened during Lunar New Year, a period when overseas family members would usually be visiting from China and celebrating by eating out at Chinese restaurants.

"Restrictions on travel through China resulting in fewer visitors from this region... has inevitably resulted in some restaurant cancellations, particularly from some of the larger tour groups."

Most of the restaurants surveyed are based in Auckland, though similar feedback has been received from other centres around New Zealand, like Christchurch and Wellington.

“It’s really hard to say what the cause is, exactly,” says Bidosis. But, she continues, businesses have indicated that the lack of tourist groups due to the temporary ban of all visitors from China. The restrictions are in place for two weeks and are being reviewed every 48 hours.

"This is a challenging time for hospitality businesses owners many of whom rely on revenues from the busy summer season to see them through the winter," Bidosis says. "The more worrying feedback we are hearing from members is that diners are eating out less, particularly in Chinese restaurants. We want to reassure the public that they should feel safe to continue to dine out in their favourite establishments."

Importantly, there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in New Zealand. Fears around the coronavirus as related to restaurants is likely to have been aggravated by reports that the virus started in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan, where live and dead animals are sold for consumption. Viral social media stories of Chinese people eating exotic animals have fed into unfounded racist assumptions that Chinese food can be carriers of the virus, and that it may be possible to contract the illness by eating at a Chinese restaurant.

“Fear drives irrational decision-making sometimes,” Bidosis says, emphasising that there’s nothing to fear about dining out at your local Chinese restaurant - and in fact, more than ever, they need your support.

“Our main message is that we still continue to go out dining, that Aucklanders are not stopping their favourite lunchtime yum cha spot because of fear of the coronavirus. There’s not a lot we can do about flight cancellations, but locally we can still support our local businesses.”

The Restuarant Association is offering extra support through marketing and mentoring to affected businesses, to help them to reach diners. Bidosis also has uncertainties regarding the possible long-term economic impact on New Zealand’s hospitality business as the global situation with the virus is still uncertain and evolving. “We can’t deny that it’s going to have some impact.” 

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