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Coronavirus hits industry with fears over future cancellation of events

The coronavirus outbreak has serious implications for the meetings and events industry.

The number of deaths from the virus has risen to 132 in China, the Chinese National Health Commission (NHC) said.

“Everyone’s thoughts are with the Chinese people at a time of national crisis. However, fast the Coronavirus is spreading, the impact is spreading faster and wider. Fear, especially combined with government travel bans, is a powerful deterrent to tourism,” Tom Jenkins, CEO of ETOA said. The ETOA is a leading trade association for tour operators and suppliers in European destinations.

The Chinese authorities issued a ban on all sales of outbound travel packages on 24 January 2020 and encouraged travel organisers to urge their clients not to travel. A total ban on group travel was instigated as of 27 January 2020.

“We estimate that about 7 per cent of all annual outbound tourism from China takes place during the Chinese New Year was due to leave China before the travel ban took place on the 27th of January; but the evolving situation led to approximately 60% of the groups being cancelled. So, with caution, it is possible that two-thirds of the visitors expected to arrive in Europe over this period have not done so,” said Tom Jenkins.

Using an estimate of the number of Schengen visas issued in 2019 and data from Visit Britain it is possible to make an estimate. In numerical terms, this is about 170,000 cancellations in Europe, of which 20,000 are being lost by the UK. In financial terms this is €340million of lost revenue, of which £35m is being lost in the UK.

“These are last minute cancellations – some within twenty-four hours – releasing space when there is little alternative demand” Jenkins said. “They are concentrated, like much low season business in a few areas. So the commercial pain experienced is considerable. It is probable that these clients are deferring their visit. There is no indication that they are permanently erasing their intentions to come here. We should expect a subsequent surge in bookings when the scare is over. The impact of SARS was substantial in 2002-3, but the recovery was robust within five months.”

“We also need to stress that Europe – and the UK will continue to be viewed as part of Europe by long haul markets – remains virtually free of Coronavirus. It needs to be free of the even more contagious and damaging threat of fear,” Jenkins added.

In Germany, four cases were confirmed, making it the second European country to report on cases after France.

The United Arab Emirates has also reported on its first cases of the corona virus in a family who recently returned to the UAE from Wuhan.

The Foreign Office has warned against all but essential travel to mainland China amid the coronavirus outbreak .

The updated travel advice for China from the UK government says: “The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Hubei Province due to the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak. If you’re in this area and able to leave, you should do so.

“The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China (not including Hong Kong and Macao).

“The Chinese government continue to impose further restrictions on movement within China in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“It may become harder over the coming weeks for those who wish to leave China to do so. If you feel that you may want to leave China soon, you should consider making plans to do so before any further restrictions may be imposed.”

British Airways, which operates daily flights to Shanghai and Beijing from Heathrow, announced the suspension of flights to and from mainland China “with immediate effect” until 31 January.

“We apologise to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority,” the airline said in a statement.

Other airlines have also cancelled some flights to mainland China including United Airlines, Air Canada and Cathay Pacific Airways.

Paris has postponed Chinese New Year celebrations, with the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau extending “its sympathies to Parisian representatives who, in this troubled period, have had to suspend the Lunar New Year festivities to show their emotion. The dates of the next festivities are still pending. Travel recommendations are issued at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, where flights between Paris and Wuhan have been suspended. An important surveillance system has also been deployed for travellers leaving from China.”

The Department of Health confirmed that as of 2pm on Wednesday 29 January 2020, a total of 130 tests for the virus have been carried out in the UK, all of which have been negative.