Asia specialist Wendy Wu Tours has praised the travel trade for minimising cancellations amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, and for helping prevent a China booking crisis.
Speaking to TTG on Thursday (6 February), founder Wendy Wu said the company would resume operations in China as soon as it is safe to do so – and urged other operators to follow suit.
Wu said medical authorities in China expected the spread of the virus in China to peak at the weekend, with new UK and China travel guidance to follow thereafter.
The operator has cancelled all China departures up to 15 March, and Wu said a decision on those scheduled to depart between 15 March and 1 April would be made in the coming days, subject to any new travel advice.
Wendy Wu Tours has also been providing daily, sometimes twice-daily, updates on the situation on the ground in China, tailored for both prospective clients and trade partners.
“We want to return as soon as possible,” said Wu. “As soon as they say we can go back, we will. We have had very few clients cancel, and one of the reasons is the support we’ve had from the trade. We are so grateful.”
Wu said agents were switching clients to alternative destinations or later China departures, and that the operator was “fairly confident” those travelling to China from April would not be affected.
Virgin Atlantic has also taken further precautions amid the outbreak, extending the suspension of its Heathrow-Shanghai route from 17 February to 28 March. The next available Virgin Atlantic flight to Shanghai will depart Heathrow on 29 March.
“The health and safety of our customers and staff remains our absolute priority,” said Virgin in a statement, adding any passengers booked to travel on the route should contact the carrier to discuss their travel plans or request a refund.
Meanwhile, Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said said that while it was a decision for operators, any pledges to waive cancellation fees would be a welcome gesture.
“It’s a sensitive situation,” she said. “No one wants to cancel; the most accommodating thing would be for deposits and payment plans to be transferred to other holidays or flights.”
On travel to China, Lo Bue-Said added the country made up on a small share of Advantage bookings.
“We’re ensuring our members are completely up to date on the latest advice and information. It has been difficult, but we will watch this space long-term. In the meantime, all we can do is make sure we have given our members all the relevant information they need.”
Aito chair Derek Moore said Aito members affected by coronavirus were monitoring the situation carefully, and communicating regularly with customers and fellow members.
“Having cancelled immediate departures, they will be handling them on a rolling basis, as they did with the Sri Lanka terror attacks last Easter.”
On whether operators should waive cancellation fees, Moore added Aito did not dictate to its members how they should run their businesses but stressed they were bound by its quality charter requiring them to be fair and transparent with customers, and to operate in a “sustainable manner”.
Myanh Ton, owner of London-based agent Visit Asia, said the situation was reminiscent of the 2003 Sars outbreak.
“People are putting bookings on hold,” she said. “We have to concentrate on promoting other destinations. We’re a small company, we don’t have lots of staff to pay, and we’re putting clients’ safety first.”