• Coronavirus could wipe out 50 million tourist industry jobs
  • Many countries depend on tourists from China
  • Many nations have imposed travel bans on Chinese

The global coronavirus epidemic could slash up to 50 million jobs in the travel and tourism industry, warned a report from the World Travel and Tourism Council.

The world’s travel sector could shrink by up to 25% this year, the travel body added.

WTTC’s chief executive, Gloria Guevara, said the COVID-19 outbreak “clearly presents a significant threat to the industry as a whole, to those employed within it, and those wishing to continue traveling.”

Already, airliners have cancelled thousands of international flights due to falling demand and travel restrictions – and these reductions will create enormous ripple effects upon related industries, including tourism, hotels, hospitality, restaurants, etc.

For example, Chinese airline passenger numbers plunged by 84.5% in February, resulting in a £2.35 billion [$2.88 billion] drop in revenue for that month alone.

WTTC recommended that governments take steps to protect its tourism industries, including the removal or simplification of visas; the relaxation of "unnecessary barriers" at ports and airports; the reduction of taxes imposed on travelers like Air Passenger Duty; and the increase of budgets for the promotion of travel destinations.

"Travel and tourism has the strength to overcome this challenge and will emerge stronger and more robust by taking all necessary measures to tackle COVID-19 and the understandable concern which surrounds it," Guevara added.

Virtually every country in the world is facing a serious drop in tourism and the revenue this sector generates.

According to WTTC, tourism in India generated $240 billion, or 9.2% of the country’s gross domestic product, in 2018, while supporting 42.7 million jobs, 8.1% of its total workforce. Tourism was also the country’s third largest foreign exchange earner.

India recently slapped a 30-day ban on most travel visas. The country typically receives some 10 million foreign visitors annually.

"Everything has been cancelled," said Rachna Singh, CEO of the Federation of Hospitality and Tourism of Rajasthan, a popular destination for visitors in the country’s northwest. Singh added that about four in 10 people in Rajasthan depended in some way on tourism.

"All our members are suffering at the moment," said Chetan Gupta, general secretary of the Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India.

Sooraj Nair, director of the luxiurious Crowne Plaza hotel in Kochi in southern India said occupancy at his hotel had plunged to 20% -- versus average hotel occupancy in India in 2019 of about 67%.

In the U.S., where President Donald Trump just imposed a 30-day travel ban from Europe, travel- and tourism-linked companies have already started slashing jobs.

Among many others, the Port of Los Angeles fired 145 drivers amid stalled shipments from China, and Oyo Hotels laid off 360.

“Demand in certain industries is dropping off a cliff,” said Vice President Andrew Challenger of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas. “We’re going to see continued layoffs and they’re really going to accelerate,” if the outbreak persists.

In Hawaii, which counts tourism as its top industry, experts are fearing the worst.

Carl Bonham, a University of Hawaii economist, predicted that half of Hawaii’s hotel rooms will be empty over the next few months, “if we’re lucky.”

Hawaii hotels typically see an average of about 80% occupancy, but Bonham forecast this figure will plunge by 30 to 40 percentage points.

Hawaiian Airlines CEO Peter Ingram said airlines will continue reducing flights to the islands in the coming weeks.

Bonham also projected the impact of the virus will slide Hawaii and the U.S. into recession.

“The short-term economic effects will overwhelm [Hawaii’s] ability to counteract them. We don’t have that capability,” Bonham said. “One of the worst possible scenarios is that we have widespread outbreak in Hawaii.”

Tourism represents 17% of Hawaii’s economy and 19% of the state’s jobs.

Tourism is also a major part of Ireland’s economy.

The Irish Hotels Federation estimates that Irish tourism supports more than 260,000 jobs, about 10% of the total workforce. About 70% of these jobs are located outside Dublin.

The Restaurants Association of Ireland predicted that up to 30,000 jobs could be lost in the tourism and hospitality sectors over the next three months due to the virus.

Restaurants and bars across the capital Dublin have endured cancellations and near-empty venues.

"Even before the virus got to Dublin I noticed that cancellations were coming in," restaurant manager John Healy said.

Healy noted that corporate bookings, which account for about 70% of his business, began sliding a few weeks ago after many companies banned travel and entertaining as the virus spread in Europe.

Elaina Fitzgerald Kane, president of the Irish Hotels Federation and Director of Fitzgeralds Woodlands House Hotel in Adare, County Limerick, said three elements were depressing business.

"One is [we have] cancellations that are directly related to the coronavirus and two is that our level of bookings are not at the same pace [as they would usually be for this time of year],” she said. "Thirdly where we would naturally have a heightened interest in bookings around St. Patrick's Day ... unfortunately that is not something that is going to happen this year, so those are very, very unusual circumstances for us.”

Kane said she would like the Irish government to reduce taxes as long as the crisis lasts.

A spokesperson for Ireland’s Department of Tourism, Trade and Sport warned: "a prolonged period of travel restrictions will lead to a significant drop in tourist numbers and ultimately to job losses in the [tourism] sector.

New Zealand, which depends heavily on Chinese visitors [now banned by travel restrictions], has already lost hundreds of tourism jobs as bookings have vanished, resulting in losses of millions of dollars.

New Zealand Chinese Travel and Tourism chair Simon Cheung ​ estimated that 300 tour bus drivers in the country were temporarily jobless and many have switched to driving for Uber in order to make a living.

"I can hang on for a month, but I don't know where I will get the money from,“ said Christchurch driver guide Jason Li, who just lost his job. "We have to keep waiting until the tourists come back."

For the year ended March 2019, about 14% of New Zealand’s workforce was employed in tourism.

"We believe hundreds of short term or temporary jobs are being lost or not being filled,” said Tourism Industry Aotearoa chief executive Chris Roberts. “Casual jobs are generally the first to go. The economic implications [of coronavirus] are much wider than many people anticipated, so we accept than any [government] assistance in retaining the workforce is a bigger issue than just tourism.”

Indonesia is another country dependent on Chinese tourists.

Maria Oktaviani Simonita Budjen, a tourism official in Labuan Bajo in West Manggarai, East Nusa Tenggara, said the lack of Chinese visitors is badly hurting local tourism.

“I don’t have the data, but I can see it through conditions in Labuan Bajo. Usually, there are many tourists going back and forth, but now I can count them on my fingers,” she said.

Labuan Bajo is one of the most popular tourist sites in the huge country.

Donatus Matur, the chief of the West Manggarai chapter of the Indonesian Tour and Travel Agency said tourists from across the world had canceled travel plans to Indonesia.