January 30, 2020 / 1:43 PM / a month ago

Coronavirus causes slump in Chinese travel: study

FILE PHOTO: China Southern Airlines employees wear a surgical mask as a preventive measure in light of the coronavirus outbreak in China, as they wait for customers behind the counter at Benito Juarez international airport in Mexico City, Mexico January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

LONDON (Reuters) - The coronavirus outbreak in China caused a slump in outbound travel from China around its New Year period, data from travel analytic firm ForwardKeys showed on Thursday, a setback from what would otherwise have been a record year.

ForwardKeys data showed that up to Jan 19, outbound travel bookings were 7.3% ahead compared to the equivalent period of last year, but a week later, they were 6.8% behind after travel restrictions were introduced.

Bookings to China have also suffered, dropping from being 4.5% ahead to 7.2% behind the previous year over the same time period.

Deaths from the virus have risen to 170 and markets have shuddered at the impact of an inevitable big hit to the world’s No. 2 economy. Travel stands to be a key sector impacted by the outbreak, with British Airways suspending all of its flights to mainland China for a month.

ForwardKeys said the travel impact might have been greater if it the outbreak had happened earlier, as many travelers had already left for Chinese New Year celebrations.

“Fortunately, most Chinese holidaymakers managed to get away in time and as of now, we don’t see the collapse in travel to China spreading to other countries in the region,” Olivier Ponti, Vice President Insights at ForwardKeys, said.

“However, with the crisis evolving rapidly from day to day and a growing number of airlines cancelling flights to China, close monitoring is needed.”

Reporting by Alistair Smout and Laurence Frost, Editing by William Maclean

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