As a result of the Coronavirus, (flu-like contagion causing pneumonia) which originated in Wuhan; China has just temporarily banned its citizens from booking overseas tours, along with overseas flight and hotel packages. The news may be welcomed, by those in fear, but it’s also important to think about the greater implications of this on global tourism, (already stock markets are trending downwards with China Eastern Airlines down 7%).
As a former travel agent and airline employee, I worked 9/11, I saw SARS, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria happen, MH370 & MH17 (plus many other crashes), I saw the Global Financial Crisis along with numerous companies and countries go bust. Tourism has seen it all, Coronavirus is no different to any other disaster.Jade Jackson
In every ban, there’s winner’s and losers. Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland have both been temporarily shut as a safety precaution, which may be inconvenient for any current travellers, but what is being forgotten or overlooked, is the importance of China to tourism markets, worldwide.
I’ve previously written about the emergence of Chinese airlines and their affect on airfare prices, (especially from Australia and New Zealand to Europe), however with Coronavirus travel bans in place, what happens when these already discounted airfares don’t have the Chinese passenger numbers to remain profitable? How long can the Chinese government keep them propped up? What will happen to global tourism?
As the following graphs show, one thing is obvious; prior to the outbreak of the Coronavirus, Chinese tourists have continuously outspent all other countries whilst travelling abroad and this trend was expected to continue, well into the next decade.
Removing one entire source of tourists from the chain, is a massive chunk out of the tourism money pool. When you also add a reduction of tourists from other countries, fearful that travelling could put them at risk of contracting the Coronavirus, we’re now talking massive numbers—hundreds of millions of traveller’s no longer travelling because of one tiny, microscopic virus.
So whilst there have been calls to ban all Chinese travellers and ban all travel to or from China, out of fear the virus will spread; the wider implications mean many small businesses including hotels, tour companies, restaurants, attractions and activities; even supermarkets and pharmacies may be forced to close, as a result the reduction of business from any ban on Chinese traveller’s (or indeed any travel bans) will have.
Even in the Blue Mountains, where I live, just a short trip west of Sydney, busloads of Chinese tourists arrive everyday at Echo Point to see the Three Sisters, however they also stop at local eateries, souvenir shops and they also visit local supermarkets purchasing chocolates, vitamins, and beauty treatments.
On this morning’s news, it was reported there have been tens of thousands of cancellations to the Gold Coast over Chinese New Year, all Chinese tourists as a direct result of the travel bans in place.
When I lived in New Zealand, Chinese tourists accounted for the largest growth of visitor arrivals (for tourism) in New Zealand; they were the biggest spenders and the word-of-mouth component was crucial for future tourism growth.
Travelling to small New Zealand towns as part of my job, many tourism operators were fearful that they were overly reliant on Chinese tourists and were considering investing in advertising for other big population markets like Indonesia, India and Brazil; all of which have a growing middle-class population.
But that doesn’t solve the short term dilemma of where to gain new tourists overnight from temporary bans as a result of the Coronavirus (or future contagions).
In Australia, many towns already suffering as a result of the recent bushfires (and drought) – which hit during the peak domestic tourism months of December and January, are facing a double whammy with a drastic reduction of international visitors because of the Coronavirus. This could spell the end for many small Australian businesses.
It’s not just direct tourism, Chinese students are the biggest source of income for many universities, as is the case in Australia. Whilst they are studying, most students are also tourists, venturing out on weekends.
Whilst there is no current cure or vaccine for Coronavirus, a group of Queensland researchers are part of an international team, urgently attempting to find a vaccine; they’ve been given 16 weeks, usually they’d have three years.
Until a cure is found, or at least a vaccine to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, unfortunately travel bans may be the only solution, to halt the potentially deadly virus, besides frequent hand washing, face masks and hand sanitiser.
But panic and knee jerk reactions does not help anyone. It’s important to remember that the virus is not a death sentence. There have been people who have contracted it, and recovered, most of those who do come into contact with it, will recover. As usual it’s the young and old at most risk but always check your media sources thoroughly and refrain from falling for social media misinformation or ‘fake news’.
I was in China in 2003, (having completed the Trans-Mongolian Railway) when SARS broke out. At the time, Beijing was considered ‘safe‘ as the virus was only in the southern parts of China. All the locals in Beijing were wearing face masks, and two days after I left China, Chinese media finally came clean that actually, the virus was found all over China and the number of reported cases was ten times what had been reported previously.
The day after I left China (I was in Tokyo, Japan) I fell ill with a fever and delirium and I was terrified I’d caught SARS but within 24 hours, I was fine. I had caught a virus, but thankfully, it wasn’t SARS.
I had quietly laughed to myself whilst I was in Beijing that locals were being over the top with face masks, having never encountered a global epidemic before, (of course it’s always better to be safe, than sorry), but also where is SARS now?
One winner out of the travel bans is endangered wildlife. As the source of the deadly contagion was a market in Wuhan, selling both raw meat, and live animals, the transportation and selling of these has been restricted in the aftermath of the Coronavirus with a ban on all live wildlife in markets, restaurants, and online. It won’t necessarily save them all, but it will give them some breathing space, (or it could also cause a spike in black market sales).
As an optimist who’s worked in the tourism industry through 9/11, SARS, multiple wars and invasions, the Global Financial Crisis, plus air crashes including MH17 and MH370, the one constant is, people will always travel.
So whilst disasters and outbreaks of new diseases like the Coronavirus (or future new threats that may arise) will effect tourism in the short term, it’s not all doom and gloom, eventually things will bounce back, it’s just a matter of how long that will take?
The question is, how long before it’s safe to buy Chinese airline stocks again? I’m no market expert, but I’d say 4-6 weeks from now, just before a vaccine is announced.
Have you changed your travel plans because of Coronavirus? Are you stuck in China? Get in touch or comment below.
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