Operators are “carefully monitoring” developments in China after the spread of the country’s deadly coronavirus triggered a Foreign Office (FCO) travel ban on Tuesday (28 January).
The FCO updated its guidance to advise against all but essential travel to China and all travel to Hubei province, home to the city of Wuhan where the outbreak is thought to have originated. The advice excludes Macao and Hong Kong.
More than 100 people have died from the respiratory infection, which has now spread to more than 15 countries. China’s national health commission has confirmed nearly 6,000 cases so far.
On Wednesday (29 January), British Airways suspended all flights to and from mainland China owing to the outbreak. There are no listings for BA’s Heathrow-Shanghai and Heathrow-Beijing services until 1 March.
The FCO advice amounts to a tacit travel ban as anyone travelling to an area where the FCO is advising against all, or all but essential, travel will likely see their insurance invalidated.
As a result, a number of tour operators have been forced to alter or reroute tours, or suspend or cancel them altogether.
China specialist Wendy Wu Tours said in a statement it was carefully monitoring the FCO advice, in line with its departures, “on a daily basis”.
“The current travel advice is relevant for travel to China now, i.e. in the next few days, and is changing on a daily basis,” said the operator. “We are fully expecting the travel advice to be revised again shortly and will update as soon as this information changes.
“If you are travelling with us to China during February, we will contact you if there are any changes to your travel plans. Travel to China beyond February is currently planned to operate as normal. Our passengers’ health and wellbeing is always our top priority, and we continue to carefully monitor this situation.”
Kerry Golds, managing director of Abercrombie & Kent UK, said the situation had parallels with the 2003 Sars crisis. “We are monitoring the situation closely,” said Golds. “Based on past experience with Sars, it is encouraging the Chinese government has taken unprecedented steps to face the outbreak and deal with it in a transparent manner.
“Given this is the low travel season for inbound travel to China, we are hopeful that the issue can be can resolved before the spring travel season begins.
“For clients with immediate departures to China, we’re offering them the opportunity to postpone, cancel or rebook to a new destination free of charge. For guests departing in the coming months, we will discuss options with them as the situation evolves.”
On The Go Tours, meanwhile, has cancelled all of its China holidays through 25 March. In a bulletin for agents, the operator said clients could defer their trips, switch to another destination or take a full refund. Agents should consult their clients and contact the operator by 15 February with their preferences.
“If your client’s holiday to China departs between 26 March and 25 April, a decision as to whether these trips will operate will be made on the 17 February in accordance with the best advice offered by DFAT [the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trading] and the FCO at this point in time. The alternatives available to you will be those listed above.
“As the situation is fluid, plans for those travelling after 25 April and the remainder of 2020 have yet to be put in place. A further update for those travelling after 25 April will be given on the 17 February.”
The operator added: “All of our office team, tour guides and their families in China are safe and well. They are all hoping that the situation is resolved shortly so they can get back to work as soon as possible.
“They are further concerned about the effects this will have on tourism and the best way that we can support them is by not blanket cancelling tours for the entire year.”