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Published on Monday, May 18, 2009

WTTC pushes ‘keep travelling’ mantra over flu fears

 Don’t let any fears of swine flu affect your holiday plans this year, keep travelling -- was the consensus from a panel of global tourism leaders in Brazil on Friday, as it tried to cement the industry’s reaction to the outbreak of swine flu across the globe.

“We are overacting and we are over-informing,” said Jean-Claude Baumgarten, president of the World Travel & Tourism Council at the ninth Global Travel and Tourism Summit in Florianopolis, Brazil.

“We (the industry) are feeding the situation…talking about it is making it worse...keep travelling, we need a cooler reaction to the situation,” said Gerald Lawless, CEO of the hotel group Jumeirah.

Reactions came after new data showed that if a global swine flu pandemic took hold it could cause GDP losses of nearly US$2.2 trillion to the tourism economy spread over late 2009 and into 2010.

This could be nearly one hundred times more impactful than the SARS crisis, which chipped US$25 billion off the travel sector revenues.

“If it spreads to be a pandemic that we all hope it won’t be -- the effect on the tourism industry will be significant,” said John Walker, chairman of Oxford Economics who conducted the research for the WTTC.

Visitor exports could plummet by 60 percent, with the tourism economy seeing a loss of US$620 billion if swine flu turned into a global pandemic.
This could cause direct GDP losses to travel providers of about US$1.1 trillion and a higher US $2.2 trillion to the global tourism economy.
Some regions would be more affected since their economies are more dependent on tourism such as the Caribbean and Europe – France was particularly highlighted.
“The worry for the travel industry is that people could actually stop travelling both internationally and domestically,” explained Walker.  
Although the mantra “keep travelling” was reiterated by the discussion panel, Geoffrey Limpan, assistant secretary of the United Nations World Travel Organisation (UN WTO) offered a note of caution – saying that any potential second wave of swine flu could affect the industry a lot more.  
“People are primarily worried about their money,” said Gill Williams of green travel guides stressing that holidaymakers would fear swine flu less if they knew that their holiday money would be safe and insured and this was their primary motive for not travelling rather than health fears.
The World Health Organisation’s latest update as of May13 shows that there have been 5,728 confirmed cases of swine flu across 33 countries, which have so far led to 61 deaths. So far the outbreak has been concentrated in NAFTA countries including Mexico (2,059 cases), the U.S. (3,009) and Canada (358) accounting for over 90 percent of infections.
Already Sol Melia has closed two of its eleven properties in Mexico, according to Sebastian Escarrer, vice chairman of the Spanish company, “we have no ideas when we will open them,” he explained. One Mexican hotelier said that he was running at 50 percent occupancy, “ the economic impact is going to be massive,” the hotelier explained.  
*See linked WTTC Summit stories exclusively on
by Nick Easen

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