The cancellation of arguably the largest travel trade event in the world, ITB Berlin as well as significant events such as IBTM Asia, PATA Annual Summit and others that are likely to follow suit sends out alarm bells for some time to come.
COVID-19 or the novel coronavirus is from the same group as SARS and MERS. In fact, the fatality rate of the latter two was deadlier. That is, in terms of human lives. However, the coronavirus seems to have hit industries in the solar plexus and beyond, particularly the travel and tourism business. And we are spreading the panic by sending out distress signals that are catastrophic for travel in months to come.
Let’s face it. Safety of human lives is paramount. So actions – preventive, curative or cautionary are bound to be taken when the world faces a possible pandemic that has taken human lives and disrupted many industries, global trade, stock markets. However, spreading panic is another story.
The cancellation of arguably the largest travel trade event in the world, ITB Berlin as well as significant events such as IBTM Asia, PATA Annual Summit and others that are likely to follow suit sends out alarm bells for some time to come. However, a solution that may still be workable is to arrange virtual meetings between sellers and buyers as per their pre-determined meeting schedules. Not quite the same thing, but somewhat workable as damage control.
The impact is profound due to one very dominant reason. Because it emanates from China, the world’s most populous country, as well as an economic giant that exports and imports. Therefore, a larger number of people are likely to have carried the virus when they travelled back from China or travelled out of China for tourism or business. Initially, the COVID-19 was thought to be restricted to neighbouring Asian countries but has now appeared with all it’s menacing omnipresence in North America, Europe and MENA region thereby curtailing travel options and choices. Many companies have halted business travel and meetings overseas and resorted to video-conferencing. Incentive travel is certainly on hold. Some industry fairs and exhibitions such as the furniture fair and the electrical appliances fair in Germany have been cancelled.
I was in Milan attending BIT MICE in the second week of February and while there was a sense of foreboding ensuring travellers wore face masks in airports and on the aircraft, there was no shutdown, which transpired two weeks later that witnessed an Inter Milan soccer match in an empty San Siro stadium or entry to the Duomo to be barred.
However, where does one draw the line if at all it is possible to do so. Where can we stop and say that life has to go on and so does business. How do we define if a deadly virus is on the wane and is likely to fizzle out in some time? How can we determine the lingering effect of those who have contracted the deadly virus and are not critically sick but may be carriers who can infect others?
In the meantime, the travel industry (as well as many others) are seeing seismic upheavals that are playing uncontrollable havoc. People have to travel. In today’s world, electronic communication and media may have added dimensions hitherto unparalleled but the human contact is irreplaceable for the world to carry on. Here is to hoping that we see no long term devastation or threat emanating from COVID-19 and we shall overcome this obstacle too with the same resilience that we have overcome others in the past.