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March 5, 2020

Travel Industry Braces for Cancellations Amid the Growing Coronavirus Panic

At first, it seemed like just another run-of-the-mill flu virus. However, it’s turning into something much bigger than that. The coronavirus could have a devastating effect on the travel industry and many other industries as well.

Travelers are not the only ones affected. Businesses are restricting or canceling employee travel as well as trade shows, conferences, conventions and major sporting events. The convention business is the livelihood of local hotels and restaurants, says Joe Schwieterman, a transportation professor at DePaul University. He believes that the cancellations could be the death of establishments already on the verge of collapse.

The curtailment of business travel in particular and travel spending in general could cost the travel industry $46.6 billion dollars every month. Travel spending could drop by 37 percent. The travel industry is already concerned about not turning a profit this year. Employees fear that layoffs are not far behind.

Delays in producing and distributing a virus test kit have created uncertainty. People don’t know if they have the virus or not. Concerns over where the virus is now and where it will go next is causing people to panic and cancel travel plans.

Scott Solombrino, Executive Director of the Global Business Travel Association, says, “What we’re trying to tell people and message people is, ‘Look, travel is still safe. Take the normal precautions you would take: Wash your hands, don’t be coughing on people, you know, try to be diligent while you’re traveling.’ But we don’t see any reason why people wouldn’t be traveling, certainly domestically.”

Media coverage about the virus has been upsetting for many travelers. Agencies are getting frantic calls from clients wondering if they should just cancel everything and stay home.

Tammy Levent, CEO of Elite Travel, says that clients are freaking out and calling her day and night. Levent says, “Travel agents have to become psychiatrists, OK? We have to become therapists for all these people who call in.”

United Airlines announced that it will waive change fees for domestic and international flights made between now and March 31. However, Levent cautions travelers that canceling or changing flights to destinations without travel restrictions will not excuse them from paying the fees they will be charged.

Many fliers are unconcerned about the coronavirus. Arriving in Los Angeles from Cologne, Germany, Adrian Schmetz, 34, believes that the media is overhyping and overplaying the danger of the virus. Schmetz adds, “It’s not going to affect my choice of travel at all.”

However, Los Angeles International Airport parking attendant Myla Maramba says that business is beginning to fall off. She fears a cut in hours or even layoffs. “It’s going to affect a lot of people’s livelihoods,” Maramba says.

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