At Kuoni we take the word “expert” very seriously. So seriously it’s one of the three words we use to describe the role of the most important people in our business. We call them our Personal Travel Experts; travel because that’s what we sell, and personal because that’s how we sell it. It’s personal because we listen, we listen really hard, and right now our customers are telling us that they’re worried about the spread of coronavirus.
We’re experts in travel, we’re not experts in virology. The World Health Organization (WHO) employs experts in virology, they’re called virologists and they have lots of them.
The virus experts at WHO and elsewhere spend a lot of their time studying viruses, particularly what happens when a virus finds itself inside one of us and how readily it spreads between us. They’ve recently completed an extensive study of the outbreak of Covid-19 in Wuhan and published their findings. Here’s the summary:
About 80% of people who get it will have it mildly and will be fine, 15% may be more serious and for 5% it’s critical. Overall there’s a 3% fatality rate but it goes up from age 50. For those aged 80 and over it’s 14%. Those most at risk in all age groups are those with underlying illnesses especially heart disease and respiratory problems.
Anyone who reads a newspaper or watches TV will be very familiar with these facts already – they’ve been widely reported – and there’s no doubt that for many people they are unsettling. Add to that the recent widely reported outbreaks of coronavirus in northern Italy, in Tenerife and on cruise ships and it’s inevitable that disinclination to travel is becoming a major problem.
Faced with this challenge, the widespread default response from many in the travel industry has been to blame the media and to urge everyone to calm down. Using hashtags like #coronahype and #nopanichere they’ve taken to social media with increasingly frantic posts; calculating to 10 decimal places the percentage of people who have so far died from the virus and comparing it with the number of people who die of other causes; quoting headlines from previous epidemics which later prove to be wrong; saying that most of us needn’t worry because we’re not in a high-risk group; and, of course, calling out the “so-called experts” who “don’t know what they’re talking about”. (I blame Michael Gove for this last one.)