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Breaking Travel News investigates: Global events industry hit by coronavirus
ITB Berlin has been among the most high-profile cancellations to date

Breaking Travel News investigates: Global events industry hit by coronavirus

From the start of January until mid-February it seemed the coronavirus would be an issue only for Chinese authorities.

With the city of Wuhan in lockdown and precautions being taken across the wider Hubei province, it seemed containment was possible.

Over the past few weeks, however, things have changed dramatically.

Hundreds of cases have been reported in Italy, while Iran and South Korea have also been hard hit.

Airlines around the world - including Ryanair, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways in the UK - have cancelled thousands of flights and could end up facing a US$30 billion bill according to IATA.

Officials at the World Travel & Tourism Council have argued recovery could take anywhere from ten months to two years, depending on the spread of the virus and the global response to it.

Officials at Expo 2020 in Dubai are monitoring the situation

Following the most recent wave of cases, large-scale international events have come under the spotlight.

The giant travel tech show MWC Barcelona has been cancelled, alongside the Chinese F1 Grand Prix, Hong Kong and Singapore legs of the World Rugby Sevens and the Six Nations clash between Ireland and Italy.


Five Serie A matches scheduled for this weekend have been postponed in Italy, with the crunch top-of-the-table clash between Inter and Juventus among them.

Officials cancelled the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco because of the outbreak, while authorities in Venice pulled the last two days of the historic carnival.

The first two races of the MotoGP season have been cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak, with events in Qatar and Thailand scrapped.

Even the famous cherry blossom festival in Tokyo was cancelled because of the outbreak.

Questions are beginning to be asked about the Tokyo Olympics

With nearly 100,000 cases of the virus now reported around the world, and 3,000 deaths, this response might seem appropriate.

But questions are now being asked out the rest of the year, and a series of mega-events on the horizon.

In Japan, Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto has said the 2020 Games could be postponed from the summer until later in the year amid fears over the coronavirus outbreak.

The games are due to be held from July 24th-August 9th, with delays possible.

However, IOC president Thomas Bach said last week that the organisation is “fully committed” to hosting the event as scheduled.

In Dubai, authorities behind Expo 2020 were keeping their cards close to their chest on any possible movement.

An Expo 2020 Dubai spokesperson said: “The safety and well-being of everyone visiting Expo 2020 Dubai is of paramount importance to us, and we are working closely with the United Arab Emirates’ ministry of health and prevention to apply the guidance that they have provided.”

Emirati officials seem to be waiting to see how the situation plays out before disrupting preparations.

Arabian Travel Market is currently going ahead as planned

Of course, the travel industry has been right at the centre of this.

Messe Berlin has been hard hit, having been force to cancel ITB Berlin, the inaugural ITB India and ITB China.

The launch of IBTM Asia Pacific has also fallen by the wayside, while the International Hospitality Investment Forum has been postponed until May.

Might this be the extent of the damage?

Reed Exhibitions, the organisers of Arabian Travel Market, are bullish the event will take place next month.

A statement explained: “Arabian Travel Market 2020 is scheduled to go ahead as planned.

“The safety of all of our participants is an absolute priority and we are monitoring the COVID-19 situation closely and liaising with the relevant United Arab Emirates and Dubai authorities on a regular basis.”

As the organisers of AHIC, Bench Events said they were also actively monitoring the current outbreak.

As of now, the event will go ahead of as planned on April 14th-16th at the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai.

However, attendees travelling from high-risk countries will not be allowed to attend, with organisers “actively assessing participants” to ensure the safety of everyone attending.

In South Africa, Reed Exhibitions advised there are no plans to cancel ILTM or WTM Africa in Cape Town, with the events set to take place in early April.

“While ITB Berlin was cancelled this past Friday, we have based our decision on the fact that our exhibitors fall outside of high-risk COVID-19 areas,” explained Megan Oberholzer, portfolio director, Reed Exhibitions South Africa.

“That being said, in terms of international buyers, attendees from China, Korea, Iran, and Italy will no longer be visiting ILTM or WTM Africa 2020, in the interests of health and safety.”

With just one case of the virus reported in Brazil, World Travel Market Latin America will also kick-off as planned in São Paulo on March 31st.

More than 600 exhibitors from 50 countries are expected to attend over three days.

In the UK, the Tourism & Travel Show will take place in Birmingham at the end of March as planned.

With the virus still spreading, it is impossible to tell which events might face cancellation next.

Where possible organisers are seeking to go ahead, but local authorities have been keen to limit the number of overseas arrivals who might spread the disease further.

In many situations, it appears to simply be a case of wait and see – as the world continues to prepare, it remains to be seen what damage will be done.

Tokyo image: Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Zuma Press/PA Images