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Novel Coronavirus threat to tourism industry

Chhut Bunthoeun / Khmer Times Share:
The Ministry of Tourism is concerned that a new type of epidemic will badly affect the flow of tourists to Cambodia. Ministry of Tourism

The Ministry of Tourism is concerned that a new type of epidemic will badly affect the flow of tourists to Cambodia. Ministry of Tourism

With the first case of novel coronavirus reported in the country as of yesterday, tourism officials have voiced their concern that the current outbreak of the infectious disease that started in China and has already spread widely could have a serious impact on the industry.

In a bid to halt the spread of the potentially fatal virus, the Chinese government has prohibited any outbound travel. So far, it has claimed at least 80 victims in the city of Wuhan – where it is believed to have originated – and infected 2,801 others in China and other countries, including Thailand, Japan, South Korea, the US, Vietnam, Malaysia, France, Canada and Australia.

While Chinese scientists are facing a race against the clock to develop a vaccine to tackle the new strain of coronavirus, Chuk Chumnor, spokesman for the Ministry of Tourism, told Khmer Times that there is also a global concern about the impact it could have on the tourism industry.

“Chinese nationals are a big portion of the world’s holidaymakers and with the government’s ban amid the outbreak, it is going to badly affect the global tourism sector,” he said.

It was reported by the Ministry of Health last night that a Chinese man infected with the virus had flown from Wuhan to Sihanoukville on Lanmei Airlines. Three others are under observation. No more details were available at press time.

China currently represents the biggest tourism market for the country.

According to official Ministry of Tourism figures, last year, 2.5million Chinese nationals visited, representing a 25 per cent rise on 2018. Figures were expected to rise to 3 million this year, but that is now looking highly unlikely.

As to the full extent of the impact the current outbreak will have on the country’s tourism industry, Chumnor pointed to the 2003 SARS virus which also emerged in China. It cost the lives of nearly 800 people, with the Asian Development Bank estimating that the health epidemic caused $18 billion in losses, pushing down the economic growth rate in East and Southeast Asia by 0.6 of a percentage point.

“There was a dramatic decline of Chinese tourist arrivals and it hurt our tourism sector,” he said. “So this time, we are working with the private sector, setting out some necessary measures to maintain stability during the coronavirus crisis. This will include encouraging domestic tourist movement with special offers.”

Khek Norinda, communications and public relations director at Cambodia Airports confirmed to Khmer Times yesterday that all flights between the country’s three international airports from and to Wuhan have been suspended.

Commenting on the situation, Khek said, “It is still early to have a full grasp of the negative impact but we anticipate that the outbreak will dent passenger traffic.”

The outbreak of the virus comes amid China’s busiest travel season, with more than 7 million people estimated to have made plans to travel abroad during the Chinese lunar New Year.

Several Asian countries are already anticipating the economic damage that will be caused by the Chinese government’s decision to stop outbound travel.

The Tourism Council of Thailand estimates that it will face 50 billion baht (about $1.6 billion) in lost revenues.

This is based on the average spending of 50,000 baht (about $1,600) per Chinese tourist visiting Thailand.

Japan is also bracing itself for an economic hit. Chinese visitors accounted for about 30 percent of the country’s 32 million visitors last year, bringing $16million into the country.

The virus is thought to have emerged from illegally traded wildlife at the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan.

The country issued a blanket ban on the wildlife trade on Sunday.

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