Cruise lines, operators and agents were battling to deal with the fallout from the coronavirus this week amid conflicting signs as to whether continual news of the outbreak is affecting the wider travel market.
A leading industry analyst reported “no overall impact” on UK outbound bookings but confirmed: “Bookings are down for Asia.”
However, Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the Association of Atol Companies, suggested there was a general slowdown, saying: “Coronavirus is having a choking effect on bookings as people wait to see what happens. There are reports of lots of enquiries but conversion rates falling.”
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He said: “The China market has collapsed. Long-haul is affected, although the US and Caribbean are doing well. There are growing concerns about trips with connections through the Far East, such as Singapore.”
Passengers quarantined on Diamond Princess are beginning to leave the ship which has been quarantined by Japanese health authorities since February 3. A total of 542 passengers are infected.
The Foreign Office said it was “working to organise a flight back to the UK” this week after coming under pressure to repatriate UK passengers. An evacuation was expected this week.
Cruise lines acknowledged bookings for Asia had been hit but said demand had switched elsewhere. Antonio Paradiso, MSC Cruises’ UK and Ireland managing director, said: “Demand in Asia is dropping day after day. [But] we’ve seen big booking trends for Europe and the Caribbean where most of our capacity is deployed.”
Harry Lightfoot, director of cruise agency Fusion Cruises, suggested a shift in capacity to Europe could lift the market, saying: “Prices will drop now ships are coming back [to Europe].”
Long-haul operators also reported shifting demand. If Only product and distribution director Gordon McCreadie said: “Our cruise team have faced the biggest challenge. Our Far East team have experienced uncertainty from agents and customers nervous about travelling.”
InsideJapan reported 64 clients had cancelled trips to Japan and a similar number rebooked. A spokesman said: “People are holding off confirming trips and enquiries have quietened considerably.”
Wendy Wu Tours reported up to 80% of clients booked to China in March had rebooked for later or switched destinations. Deputy managing director John Warr said: “India and Sri Lanka were our biggest-selling destinations last week. People are still booking China, but for 2021.”
A Kuoni spokeswoman said: “We’ve had calls from customers hesitant about travelling to Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. We haven’t charged an admin fee for anyone amending their plans.” She added: “The Caribbean, Africa and Latin America are seeing an upturn.”
Exodus Travels reported a slowdown in southeast Asia bookings.