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Industry Leaders Urge Calm Amid Coronavirus

Conference cancellations and troubling data stemming from COVID-19, the coronavirus, cause concern.


In addressing the spreading concerns and cancellations from COVID-19—aka the coronavirus—Associated Luxury Hotels International CEO and political junkie Michael Dominguez is taking a page from former President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Using any forum available, including an interview with Connect, Dominguez says there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

“Everybody just needs to take a deep breath here,” says Dominguez. “If you look at numbers and percentages, we are so overreacting to this.”

Facts Dominguez points to include:

  • 90% of reported cases are in China, with most localized to Wuhan.
  • Italy has 2,000 reported cases but has a population of 60 million.
  • You are more likely to be hit by lightning than catch coronavirus.

“In the United States, 90 people die in a car accident every day,” says Dominquez. “But we don’t tell people to stop driving.”

Despite the facts, the events and travel industry are suffering in a way not seen since the Great Recession.

Facebook and Google have cancelled conferences, and Mobile World Congress pulled out of Barcelona, Spain. Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim was cancelled the day it was set to begin because of a sharp drop in attendance.

In Chicago, Oracle cancelled its Modern Business Experience conference at McCormick Place. It was expected to welcome more than 5,000 people. The International Housewares Association, too, cancelled its annual home show, which was scheduled for mid-March and would have resulted in an estimated $77 million in spending on travel, accommodations, food and beverage and entertainment.

In total, reports indicate event operators in Asia, Europe and North America have cancelled or postponed at least 440 trade shows and exhibitions.

“It really worries me with companies banning travel,” says Dominguez. “It’s irrational and it’s irresponsible, candidly.”

Only events that rely on Asian attendees, caught in a travel ban, who exhibitors are counting on meeting with have any real reason to cancel, says Dominguez.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Travel Association's Travel Trends Index projects international inbound travel to the U.S. will fall 6% over the next three months as the coronavirus outbreak continues to roil the global economy.

USTA President and CEO Roger Dow echoes Dominguez. “It’s important to keep in mind that the restrictions and warnings are highly specific to countries where there have been pronounced outbreaks,” he says.

While companies are restricting travel and quarantining offices, there are no travel advisories within the United States. China, Iran, South Korea and Italy are the only countries with warnings to avoid all non-essential travel. The lack of U.S. restrictions rules out force majeure when it comes to cancellations, notes Dominguez. 

Nevertheless, airlines are limiting flights to Asia because of soft interest. The International Air Transport Association projects airlines may lose up to $113 billion. Reuters reported Southwest Airlines is expected to lose $300 million due to a significant rise in ticket cancellations and a decline in traffic since the outbreak.

The Office of Personnel Management has advised federal governments agencies to consider cutting back on travel and to tighten controls over visitors to federal buildings.

Even events that are still going on are being affected. Facebook and Twitter employees won’t attend next week’s South by Southwest Festival in Austin. The show will go on for now, but there is concern about an attendance drop.

Belinda Lichty Clarke assisted with this article.

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