Outrigger Hotels and Resorts

Published on Thursday, February 6, 2020

Coronavirus 'could cause collapse of UK travel companies'


Tourism businesses in the UK could go under due to the impact of the coronavirus unless they get some government support to help them through the current crisis, warned UKinbound CEO Joss Croft.

Calling on the government to step in and provide assistance, he said some businesses already had 'desperate cashflow problems' and they could fail before the current crisis is resolved.

Speaking at a round table event at the UKinbound annual conference, in the presence of Giles Smith, deputy director for tourism at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Croft pointed out that the government gave financial support to businesses affected by severe flooding.

"This is something the government should be looking at because once these businesses are gone, they are gone," said Croft.

Tom Jenkins, CEO of European tourism association ETOA said: "We are looking at complete breakdown in the Chinese market, there is 100% cancellation, for Chinese outbound businesses they are facing ruin."

Jenkins said one ETOA member had received 2,000 cancellation and one has lost 60% of their business. "There is chaos," he added.

Kyle Haughton of City Cruises said he had lost several Chinese group bookings, adding that the situation would be much worse if the coronavirus had struck - or continues - into the peak period.

However, Jenkins insisted the recovery will come, and he warned businesses that their response now will impact on how quickly they win back Chinese visitors. "Recovery will come, it always does, but the speed depends on how we handle the situation," said Jenkins, adding that the VisitBritain message of welcome to the Chinese had helped but the Government's advice to Britons to leave China was damaging.

"Now is the time to think carefully about the message we want to give the Chinese market," he said.

Other delegates to the UKinbound conference told stories of Japanese visitors to the UK being seated in separate dining rooms in restaurants, of people waiting outside shops for visitors from Asia to leave, and of people being wary of anyone who looked Chinese, regardless of where they had come from in Asia .

Some claimed there were instances where visittors were using the coronavirus as an excuse to cancel bookings and they said some gropus are cancelling far in advance rather than taking a wait-and-see appraoch.

Some delegates blamed the media for 'hyping' the situation, pointing out that the coronavirus had not yet proved as deadly as the 'flu virus. "The story needs to come off the front page," said Jonathan Wall of travel accountants Elman Wall.

There was agreement from the table that businesses need to be careful not to 'unintentionally' alienate the Asia market during the coronavirus crisis.


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