The coronavirus could put several companies reliant on the Chinese market out of business, industry leaders have warned.
UKinbound boss Joss Croft said during a CEO’s round table at the association’s Annual Convention that several of his members lacked the financial reserves to survive the cancellation of so many bookings.
“Some members might go out of business before this clears up,” he said. “There are some with desperate cash flow problems, they’re just not getting any money in.”
Tom Jenkins, CEO of the European Tour Operators Association, reported that one of his members had had 2,000 cancellations.
“What we’re seeing is a complete breakdown in the Chinese market – 100% cancellations. Outbound companies [in China] are facing ruin,” he said.
Travel bosses at the discussion felt sure that “recovery will come”, but agreed the way the industry handles the crisis, and the way Chinese visitors are treated, would be critical to the speed and extent to which the market recovers once the crisis has passed.
“What I don’t want is for Chinese passengers on one of our boats getting a negative reaction from other customers; we must look after the Chinese visitors that we have here,” said Kyle Haughton, managing director of City Cruises.
Jenkins warned all messages given to the Chinese market would be “nuanced”.
“Each gesture we make will be gauged on how welcoming we are being,” he claimed.
“VisitBritain got the message right with its campaign, but the Foreign Office summoning back all UK nationals didn’t.”
Jenkins added he worried the wider Asian market to Europe could also be harmed, and shared an anecdote about Japanese clients being seated on a separate, empty, floor in a restaurant in York.
“We must take great care not to alienate the Asian market for future years,” he insisted.
The panel called for “an education and calming job” to be done across the supply chain, to give members of the public more accurate information about the relative low risk of the bug being transmitted, or causing death.