Published on Friday, January 24, 2020

Tourism chiefs issue warning about coronavirus 'panic'

Containing unnecessary panic over the coronavirus outbreak is as vital as stemming the spread of the virus itself, tourism chiefs have warned.

As the crisis escalates, with airports closed and flights cancelled, the World Travel & Tourism Council said unless lessons are learned from previous viral epidemics there could be a damaging and lasting economic impact on travel and tourism globally.

The statement came from Gloria Guevara, WTTC president & CEO, who was the former Tourism Minister of Mexico and was closely involved with the aftermath, and then recovery, of the Mexican outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus in 2009 which led to dozens of deaths.

The WTTC said it supports actions by the Chinese to restrict movement in the affected areas and additional measures being taken further afield, across Asia Pacific, Europe and in the UK.

But Guevara said: "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.

"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."

Analysis of previous major viral epidemics by WTTC experts 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 10 months.

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