China Pavilion at Los Angeles Travel and Adventure Show, global economy coronavirus

Lights Were On But Nobody Home

China usually is the most extravagant exhibitor at Los Angeles’ annual Travel and Adventure Trade Show. But this week almost all of China’s booths were eerily quiet, filled only by empty chairs.

Officially, 60 million residents in Central China are quarantined in response to the rampaging coronavirus that already has taken 1,855 lives and sickened over 73,000.  But in reality, the entire country is on lock down. More than 30 airlines have suspended service to China and a total of 78 nations have all but banned Chinese travelers.

For the moment, the economic impact of the virus far surpasses its threat to public health. Over 180 million Chinese citizens have passports (compared to 146 million U.S. passports) and together they take 150 million international trips a year. The cruise industry relies on 2.2 million Chinese passengers. Chinese spend more than $6,000 a week while traveling internationally, a fact already impacting luxury boutiques in Los Angeles, Paris and New York.

Fear of the coronavirus has hit airlines the hardest. Canceled reservations now exceed 25,000 resulting in a loss of $652 million in anticipated revenue. Airlines that adjusted their schedules to attract Chinese travelers are failing. Last week, Air Italy and Turkey’s Atlas Air ceased operation. Norwegian Air cut its capacity by 15%. Air India is on the brink of collapse and buzzards are circling Thai International.

“The good news is airlines are slashing prices to fill empty seats,” confides CBS Travel Editor Peter Greenberg. “A round trip ticket from Boston to Paris can be bought for $225. You can fly from Istanbul to Vienna for $88. And Oslo to London costs only $64.”

Hotels scrambling to fill empty rooms are more than willing to negotiate room rates. But be sure to call direct and insist of speaking with the sales or resident manager. Online travel services like Expedia and Travelocity are not empowered to negotiate.