Travel Experts say, Tourism Hit from Coronavirus will Carry Into 2021
Even as infections of the novel coronavirus seemed to be slowing down at one point a week ago, the impacts of the epidemic on the global tourism industry were accelerating rapidly.
The effect of the pneumonia-like disease caused by the COVID-19 virus is now being felt across Asia, where leisure and business travel contributed $884 billion to GDP in 2017, the most recent year for data compiled by the World Travel and Tourism Council. (Estimates for 2018 are about $1 trillion.) For China alone, inbound tourism brought in $127.3 billion in 2019, according to its tourism bureau.
But as the diagnoses tick upward again, travel agents, operators, and hoteliers are bracing for a considerable length of time, if not an entire year, of economic disruption from the outbreak, with long-term effects that may ripple well into 2021.
“The numbers of trip cancellations — not just to China but to the entire continent of Asia — is growing every day,” says Jack Ezon, founder and managing partner of luxury travel agency Embark Beyond. “People are put off. Sadly, a lot of them are just saying, ‘I don’t know if I want to go anywhere right now.’ Or, in many cases, ‘I’ll just go next year.’”
So far, almost 75 percent of his travelers have canceled their February and March flights to Southeast Asia, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still considers having a lower, level one risk for the coronavirus. “They’re worried about being anywhere close to the outbreak,” he says, “or of getting stuck with canceled flights if other hubs become infected.” A full 100 percent of the honeymoon trips his agency had booked to the region have been canceled and rebooked for alternate destinations, including the Maldives, southern Africa, and Australia.