The deadly coronavirus could have a major impact on global tourism unless lessons are learned from previous epidemics, a senior industry figure has warned.

Gloria Guevara, president of the London-based World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), said transparent communication is vital to “contain panic and mitigate negative economic losses”.

Three of China’s major tourist attractions, Beijing’s Forbidden City, a popular section of the Great Wall of China near the capital, and Shanghai Disneyland have been closed in a bid to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

Coronavirus: confirmed cases
(PA Graphics)

The country has introduced travel restrictions affecting more than 30 million people across 10 of its cities in Hubei province, including Wuhan where the virus has been concentrated.

Wuhan airport has been closed, grounding the three-times-per-week China Southern flights serving Heathrow.

WTTC analysis of previous major viral epidemics shows the average recovery time for visitor numbers to a destination was 19 months, but this can be reduced to just 10 months with “the right response and management”.

It stated that the Sars outbreak of 2003 cost the global travel and tourism sector as much as £38 billion, while the worldwide economic impact of the 2009 swine flu pandemic was up to £42 billion.

Ms Guevara said: “Experience has taught us that global co-ordination and co-operation, with collaboration between the public and private sector, is going to be vital in containing the spread of the coronavirus throughout China and beyond.

“We analyse many global crises within WTTC and previous cases have shown us that the economic losses from health epidemics are avoidable through the effective use of crisis preparedness and management procedures, as well as through managing public panic and making rational decisions through travel.

“Previous cases have also shown us that closing airports, cancelling flights and closing borders often has a greater economic impact than the outbreak itself.

“The most effective management of a crisis requires rapid activation of effective emergency plans, and we can see that in the early days of this outbreak, the Chinese government has acted rapidly.

“However, quick, accurate and transparent communication is also crucial in order to contain panic and mitigate negative economic losses. Containing the spread of unnecessary panic is as important as stopping the virus itself.”

Upmarket travel giant Kuoni is contacting all customers with China bookings up to the end of April to advise them of the latest information and discuss their travel options.

A spokeswoman told the PA news agency: “Today we have been notified that many of the attractions which form the highlights of people’s visits to China are being closed to limit the spread of the virus, so we are reviewing all tours and itineraries for anyone currently booked to travel over the next few months.

“Winter is low season for incoming tourism in China, so it’s not a time when we have many customers in the destination, though numbers travelling increase from March onwards, with most of our customers travelling on small group escorted tours.

“For clients who are potentially thinking about booking trips to China on escorted group tours or on a tailor-made trip, we’re keeping our sales team updated on the latest situation so we’re able to give customers the most accurate advice.”

Tom Jenkins of European tourism association ETOA said concern about coronavirus is “understandable” but insisted “precautions are in place” in Europe.

He added: “It remains a very remote threat – effectively no threat – for any traveller in Europe.”