Travel and tourism operators affected by the coronavirus outbreak are all too aware of one worrying trend: panic is spreading much faster than the disease, fueled by misinformation on social media. Take Australia, for example. Despite only 30 confirmed cases at the time of writing, local supermarket shelves are already being cleared of supplies, with toilet paper now at a premium across Sydney.
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France has banned the traditional French double-cheek kiss and large public gatherings, while one agency boss believes clients are questioning whether to attend the Cannes Lions in June. Today, Japan’s Olympic 2020 minister warned that Tokyo’s Summer Games may be postponed until the end of the year.
In the UK, where there are just over 50 confirmed cases so far, the government has outlined details of a coronavirus outbreak ‘battle plan’, with measures including a three-month working-from-home policy and a ban on large events if the situation deteriorates.
For the tourism and travel industry, the economic pinch has already turned into a squeeze. Aviation regulator IATA (the International Air Transport Association) has relaxed rules governing airline slot use at airports, warning that airlines are experiencing “serious declines in demand”.
One carrier has reported a 26 percent reduction across its operation; one hub carrier to Italy has said bookings are down by 108 percent year on year, and in some regions collapsing to zero; while many airlines are reporting 50 percent no-shows across several markets.
The real problem for the travel industry is that panic is more infectious than the virus and the only antidote is consistent information. Although the global tourism, travel, and hospitality industry outlook is bleak, in the short-term, at least, tourism and travel operators have begun shifting PR and marketing spend to promote regions that are not yet affected.
Rooster managing executive James Brooke said that while bookings to Asia are “understandably down”, there has been no overall drop in UK outbound travel as “demand has simply shifted to other regions”. Paul Charles, founder, and chief executive of the PC Agency, told PR Week he is aware of ‘safer destinations’ planning to increase their PR/marketing spend in the UK during March/April, shifting it from markets that are in lockdown, such as China.
Destinations, airlines, and hotels that are less affected – because they are not Asia-focused – will need to reassure customers about existing bookings for Olympic 2020, as well as inject more spend into PR and marketing to show why many areas are still perfectly safe to visit.
“If we do continue to see governments banning mass gatherings it would follow that the general public might be unable to attend the Games,” he said.
Several countries in Europe are already taking steps to contain the potential spread of the virus by restricting travel and large gatherings. These decisions are often made at a national government level. He warned that Japanese authorities will be under “tremendous pressure” to postpone the Olympic 2020, which has already been flagged.
I think Cannes will likely be affected in a big way as well – a number are deliberating their roles there. A Cannes Lions spokesperson told PR Week, Our priority remains the safety of our delegates and teams – we continue to closely monitor the development of the COVID-19/Coronavirus and any potential impact on our event. We are following guidance from the venue, the World Health Organization and the French authorities, including recently announced temporary measures to restrict events taking place in France.
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