Travellers from China and Asia must not be stigmatized due to the coronavirus outbreak, the World Travel & Tourism Council has urged.

The WTTC is warning against disproportionate reactions which could result in discrimination against Chinese and Asian tourists.

While more than 40,000 people have tested positive with the virus worldwide, 98% of cases are confined to China.

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This is thanks to a relatively low mortality rate of 2% for coronavirus compared with 10% for SARS and 34.4% for the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

The WTTC is wary that panic over coronavirus could run the risk of stigmatizing one of the world’s biggest tourist groups and may cause long-term harm.

The call follows praise from the WTTC for the work of public and private sectors working together to limit the spread of the coronavirus through flight and hotel reservation suspensions and flexible future travel options.

It also urged a continuing closer partnership between both sectors to help curtail travel in affected areas and improve education about the virus’ transmission to guard against panic measures.

Closer public and private partnerships will also help aid the sector’s recovery once the spread of the virus begins to subside.

WTTC president and chief executive Gloria Guevara said: “We must not stigmatize. The coronavirus will not be solved by singling out individuals or groups from any country, such as China or those in other parts of Asia.

“While some of this misguided action may be well-meaning and it is clearly important the travel and tourism sector plays its part to contain the spread of the coronavirus, this will not be achieved by alienating the world’s biggest tourist group.

“China has become a key global player and its tourism market has experienced massive growth in recent years.

“Chinese tourists, travelling both individually and within groups account for 16% of the world’s international travel spending. More widely, Asia has experienced nearly 7% booming average annual growth in the sector over the last decade.

“There is no doubt that travel and tourism to and from China brings huge cultural and economic benefits to the world. At WTTC we believe the sector is a force for good and unites people no matter where they are from.”

WTTC statistics show the Chinese outbound travel and tourism spending has grown sevenfold in the last ten years, with annual growth of 21.7% and now accounts for 16% of total global tourism spending.