Containing the coronavirus panic is every bit as important as stopping the deadly virus, which has so far claimed more than 20 lives in China, itself, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC),
The WTTC said on Friday (24 January) the outbreak in China could have “damaging and lasting” economic impacts for global travel and tourism unless lessons are learned from previous viral epidemics.
Believed to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the infection has this week spread to several Chinese cities – including Beijing and Shanghai – and there have been confirmed cases in a number of other countries, including Japan and the US.
China has placed restrictions on travel in and out of a handful of cities, including Wuhan, in an attempt to contain the virus.
A number of people have been tested for the respiratory infection in the UK, although there have been no confirmed cases. Public Health England has said it is “highly likely” cases will be confirmed in the UK though.
Several operators have this week rerouted tours to guard against the outbreak, while cruise lines have introduced additional screening measures for guests and staff.
Gloria Guevara, president and chief executive of the WTTC, said collaboration between the public and private sector would be vital to containing the spread of the infection beyond China.
Guevara, a former tourism minister in Mexico, was in 2010 closely involved with the aftermath and recovery from the Mexican outbreak of the 2009 H1N1 influenza, or swine flu.
WTTC analysis of previous major viral epidemics shows the average recovery time for visitor numbers to a destination is 19 months, but with the right response and management, this could be reduced to as little as 10 months.
The 2003 Sars outbreak, meanwhile, is estimated to have cost the global travel and tourism sector somewhere in the region of $30-50 billion. China alone suffered a 25% reduction of tourism GDP at a cost of 2.8 million jobs.
While praising China for its efforts to restrict movement in high-risk areas, the WTTC is also calling for additional measures across the Asia Pacific region, in Europe and the UK to stop the virus from spreading.
“Experience has taught us that global coordination and cooperation, with collaboration between the public and private sector, is going to be vital in containing the spread of the coronavirus throughout China and beyond,” said Guevara.
“We analyse many global crises within WTTC and previous cases have shown us that the economic losses from health epidemics are avoidable, through the effective use of crisis preparedness and management procedures, as well as through managing public panic and making rational decisions through travel.
“Previous cases have also shown us that closing airports, cancelling flights and closing borders often has a greater economic impact than the outbreak itself. The most effective management of a crisis requires rapid activation of effective emergency plans, and we can see that in the early days of this outbreak, the Chinese government has acted rapidly.
“However, quick, accurate and transparent communication is also crucial in order to contain panic and mitigate negative economic losses. Containing the spread of unnecessary panic is as important as stopping the virus itself.”