Asia Pacific seen to be hardest hit with 15.4% decline in travel forecast

A traveller waits near a tourist information booth at a Beijing airport. (AP pic)

LONDON: International travel is expected to fall at least 10.5% this year, the biggest year-on-year drop as the rapid spread of coronavirus sows chaos across the tourism and leisure sector, according to industry consultancy Tourism Economics.

The latest estimate is a big downgrade from two weeks ago, when the consultancy was using the 2003 SARS outbreak as its benchmark and estimated travel rates would fall by 1.5%.

Under that scenario, the virus would be contained by the end of the first half of the year and travel rates would start to recover by July.

But the market has entered uncharted waters now as governments around the world implement drastic measures to contain the pandemic, causing major disruption to travel.

Asia Pacific will be the hardest-hit region, with a 15.4% decline in travel forecast for 2020 and China driving much of the decline.

There are significant downside risks if containment measures are ramped up. In a downside scenario, travel would drop as much as 17.9%, the company, which is part of Oxford Economics, said in a research note.

The assessment is the latest blow for the struggling travel and tourism industry and will underscore growing worries about damage to the global economy.

Travel and tourism account for more than 10% of global economic growth and about 320 million jobs.

Once the situation has stabilised, the consultancy said it expected a rapid recovery since travel demand has been resilient in bouncing back in previous downturns. But levels would not fully recover until 2023, it said.