China orders travel agencies to suspend tours to contain virus outbreak

published : 24 Jan 2020 at 22:12

A passenger looks at a flight information board displaying a cancelled flight to Wuhan in a departure hall at Narita Airport near Tokyo on Thursday. (Bloomberg photo)

China has ordered all travel agencies to suspend sales of domestic and international tours as part of an effort to contain the spread of a novel coronavirus that has killed 25 and sickened hundreds.

The Ministry of Culture and Tourism ordered travel agencies and tourism companies to stop selling tour packages beginning Friday, according to a document seen by Bloomberg.

The action comes at the start of the Lunar New Year holidays, when millions of Chinese travel across the country and abroad. China is taking extraordinary measures as it tries to halt a disease that some fear could rival Sars.

The move will be a significant blow to the industry. Chinese tourists, the biggest source of outbound travelers worldwide, spent US$130 billion overseas in 2018.

While globally more tourists have been arranging their own travel, taking advantage of no-frills airlines and internet booking sites, more than half of China’s overseas travellers — 55% in 2018 — still choose packages, according to the China Tourism Academy.

In addition to tour operators such as China International Travel Service Corp and UTour Group Co, the local airline industry will be hurt by the suspension. Air China, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines’s shares have taken a hit since the virus outbreak. Air China could be most vulnerable because of its outsized exposure to international traffic, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst James Teo wrote in a note earlier this week.

The economic impact could be broader, because Chinese tourists are also the world’s biggest spenders on luxury goods, snapping up everything from fancy watches to handbags on overseas trips.

Jitters over the effects of the virus on Chinese consumers’ high-end outlays contributed to a slump in shares of Remy Cointreau SA on Friday after the Cognac maker ditched its financial forecasts.

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