A robot named Cute Little Peanut is serving room-service meals to avoid human contact with quarantined air passengers wearing face masks who flew from Singapore to Hangzhou, China, this week. United Airlines, the largest U.S. carrier operating in China, cancelled 24 flights between the United States and China because demand has evaporated. North Korea closed its border with China, and 17 Chinese cities have imposed lockdowns. Thailand, which relies heavily on Chinese visitors, says it’s expecting a $1.6 billion loss in tourism revenue with the lockdown on Chinese cities and banning of tour groups.
The continued spread of coronavirus is to blame, of course. The death toll from the deadly virus that is believed to have originated from bat meat sold at a market in the city of Wuhan, China, now exceeds 100. Cases have been reported in at least 13 other countries, although no deaths have yet resulted outside of China.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised travelers to avoid all nonessential trips to China and has issued a Level 3 travel advisory to the entire country.
With the attention of the world riveted on this spreading public health crisis, what has been the impact on group travel, conferences and planners—many of whom may have worked a year or more to stage meetings in China? Or who are depending on important attendee contingents or keynoters from that nation?
“I have been impressed how all countries have taken this crisis very seriously and how quickly and efficiently they have worked to limit and contain the virus. Clearly everyone remembers and has learned from the SARS epidemic from years ago,” says Catherine Chaulet, president and CEO of Global DMC Partners. “Clients have already reached out to us about their programs in China; however, most are requesting more information or to delay their programs versus canceling. However, as we know from other cases, things can change rapidly as the knowledge of this risk and the progression of the virus is gathered. We will continue to monitor the situation carefully and advise our clients accordingly.”
One of the many planned events put in limbo is DEF CON China 2.0, a top cyber-security conference that was set to take place in Beijing April 17-19. “China has announced a six-month hold on events like ours as part of the effort to combat the coronavirus outbreak,” the DEF CON team said in a forum post. Organizers have yet to officially cancel their gathering, hoping that the crisis will abate by spring, or that they can secure a later date.
A major Huawei developers’ conference, HDC.Cloud 2020, scheduled in Shenzhen Feb.11-12, has been pushed back to late March, according to the event’s website. The conference serves as the telecom giant’s primary event for IT developers.
The virus’ impact on travel is not limited to China. Some 20 U.S. airports are now screening incoming passengers from China for the virus. However, USA Today notes that the first two U.S. cases, in Seattle and Chicago, involved travelers who didn’t show symptoms at the airport. Understandably, the situation makes some people wary of visiting airports and flying, especially without masks, which by all accounts have proliferated in airport concourses.