Coronavirus latest: Industry steps up fight amid further cancellations

The coronavirus outbreak continues to take its toll on the industry, with further cancelled events across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.

However, there was also positive news as Kents Hill Park, the Milton Keynes conference centre used to house Brits flown back from China last month, reopened for business.

In an online statement, ExCeL London said events were taking place as planned. It said: “As you will be aware, the UK risk level for coronavirus has been increased from low to moderate. However, the risk to individuals has not changed and remains low. ExCeL remains open and events are taking place as planned.”

Visit Britain has set up a dedicated hub providing information for UK tourism businesses on the outbreak, including the current situation impact on travel to and from the UK and links to useful information and advice.

And industry trade body the Meetings Industry Association has announced an event to assist planners in responding to the outbreak.

The number of coronavirus cases in the UK increased to 87 on Wednesday (4 March).

Passengers have been left stranded across Europe after Exeter-based airline Flybe went into administration on Thursday (5 March) morning. The impact of the coronavirus on bookings proved to be the final straw for the troubled airline, which operates almost 40 per cent of UK domestic flights. Flybe and the Civil Aviation Authority are advising passengers due to board one of its planes not to go to airports.

This year’s London Book Fair, set to bring 25,000 publishers, authors and agents to Olympia London on 10-12 March, has been called off by organiser Reed Exhibitions over coronavirus concerns.

In a statement, Reed Exhibitions said it had taken the decision “with reluctance” but added that the event would return “better than ever” in 2021.

Countrywide Plc, Babcock and Milton Keynes University Hospital are among the first companies returning to Kents Hill Park in Milton Keynes this week as the conference centre reopens for business.

Earlier in February, the site had been operated in conjunction with the NHS and Public Health England as part of the Government’s repatriation of British Citizens and their families from China. Those guests, who all tested negative for coronavirus, have now left.

Simon Thatcher, general manager at Kents Hill Park, said: “We are delighted to welcome our conference and meeting clients back to our venue.”

In Italy, where there have been more than 3,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 100 deaths, the government has closed all schools and universities until mid-March and is considering banning events that “entail the concentration of people and do not allow for a safety distance of at least one metre”.

People have been told to avoid crowded places and to refrain from greeting each other by kissing on the cheek and hugging.

In Germany, in addition to the previously-announced cancellation of ITB Berlin, the Leipzig book fair has been called off and the Hanover Messe has been postponed until July.

In Australia, Geoff Donaghy, chief executive of the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Sydney said that while he expected cancellations to increase, it was not the first time the industry has faced such challenges.

“When I look back at all the major issues, major crises that affect us every four to five years … health epidemics SARS, MERS, things like the September 11 [terror attacks] and things like natural disasters … something like this happens on a relatively regular basis,”‘ Donaghy told ABC.

“Epidemics do finish. So we need to make sure we maintain a market position, we keep a relationship going, we keep their pipeline of business activated — it’s incredibly important to have that dual approach to these sorts of situations”.