The coronavirus outbreak in China could have a damaging and lasting economic impact on the global tourism sector unless lessons are learned from previous viral epidemics.
That is according to a statement from Gloria Guevara, chief executive of the World Travel & Tourism Council, and comes as the coronavirus crisis escalates.
Guevara was formerly tourism minister for Mexico and was closely involved in 2010 with the aftermath, and then recovery, of the Mexican outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus in 2009.
The incident led to thousands of fatalities.
Analysis of previous major viral epidemics by experts from WTTC shows that the average recovery time for visitor numbers to a destination was 19 months, but with the right response and management could recover in as little as ten months.
The worldwide economic impact of H1N1 was estimated at up to US$55 billion, with the loss to the Mexican tourism industry valued at US$5 billion after the 2009 outbreak.
A similar economic impact affected China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada after the 2003 SARS outbreak, damaging the global tourism sector by between US$30 and US$50 billion.
China alone suffered a 25 per cent reduction of tourism GDP and a loss of 2.8 million jobs.
While action is being taken, in relation to the coronavirus, by the Chinese authorities to restrict movement in those areas most immediately at risk, the World Travel & Tourism Council also supports additional measures being taken further afield, across Asia Pacific, Europe and in the UK.
However, speaking about the coronavirus, Guevara, said: “While the risk of exposure for travellers and tourists is still low, we are naturally concerned about those who have been affected already.
“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.
“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.”