As China’s economy surged over the last two decades, Chinese tourists have become increasingly adventurous. They now make up the largest contingent of foreign tourist arrivals in many parts of Asia, and are also travelling in increasing numbers to Europe and North America.
But following the outbreak of a deadly coronavirus that originated in China, many Chinese are cancelling or delaying their travel plans, as authorities impose travel restrictions. And with the numbers of deaths and infections climbing, some tour operators in Asia say about the only thing that is travelling right now is the virus itself.
And that is hurting economies across the region.
“It’s gonna be a tough few months for the tourism industry,” Jeremy Mak, an independent tour guide in Malaysia, tells Al Jazeera.
Mak said he is already seeing cancellations and a decline in bookings as people from around the world put off plans to travel to Asia due to worries about the contagious virus.
Several major airlines in the United States have suspended flights to and from mainland China and Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s main carrier, Cathay Pacific Airways, has asked its 27,000 employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave after the airline cut about 30 percent of its overall capacity, and 90 percent of its flights to the mainland.
“The industry as a whole is widely affected, but Chinese speaking guides are having a wipeout in terms of work – at least until April, if not longer,” Mak said.
The numbers of Chinese tourists have skyrocketed since the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China in 2003, making the economic effects of a slowdown in travel even more damaging to tourism-dependent countries.