Coronavirus Outbreak Could Harm Tourism Industry

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A man wearing a face mask pray at Erawan shrine as traditional dancers preform in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020.
Photo: VOA

Business experts had been expecting 2020 to be a good year for international tourism. They noted that trade tensions are easing, with economic conditions on the rise in some countries. In addition, events like the 2020 Summer Olympics are taking place in Japan later this year.

But the spread of the new coronavirus in China has caused problems for the travel industry. The virus — and efforts to contain it — may lead to billions of dollars in losses for tourism and keep millions of would-be travelers at home.

Gabrielle Autry is an American living in China. She had planned to travel to Hong Kong soon to get engaged to her Chinese boyfriend. But those plans are now on hold. The two are now quarantined at their home in Hangzhou, an eight-hour drive from the center of the outbreak in Wuhan.

Autry does not know when she and her boyfriend will go to Hong Kong. She told The Associated Press (AP), “We are thankful for our health and that we are together here.”

At least 30 airline companies have suspended service to China. Hotel rooms in China are largely empty.

Before the outbreak, the United Nations World Tourism Organization was predicting growth of 3 to 4 percent in global tourism this year. Central to those numbers was the promise of an ever-growing number of travelers from China. In 2018, Chinese nationals made nearly 150 million trips overseas and spent $277 billion.

The loss of those tourists is being felt most strongly in Asian countries. Thailand, for example, expects to lose $9.7 billion in income from Chinese travelers through June. That estimate comes from Thailand’s tourism and sports minister.

Arisara Chamsue operates a store near the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

“The day that we heard the news (about the virus), the tourists were gone, Arisara Chamsue told The AP. “I can only make a tenth or two tenths of what I normally make.”

Countries outside of East Asia are also feeling the loss of Chinese tourists. Australia just announced a travel ban on visitors from mainland China. China was the largest source for international visitors to Australia last year. Around 1.4 million Chinese tourists spent $13.4 billion in the country in 2019.

Italy could lose $5 billion in tourism income this year, notes Demoskopika, a polling agency.

In the United States, Tourism Economics has predicted a 28-percent drop in Chinese visitors. That represents about $6 billion less spent on travel and airfare.

The tourism industry will recover from the losses, as it has from health fears in other years. However, observers are divided about the amount of time that recovery will take.

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