Several Cayman Islands hotels are seeing cancellations amid fears that anxiety over the coronavirus is having a chilling effect on global travel.
Though there have been no cases of the flu-like virus in the territory, concern over COVID-19 has contributed to a general fear of travel.
“We have had a lot of inquiries about it and a handful of cancellations,” said Jim Mauer, managing director of the Westin Grand Cayman resort on Seven Mile Beach.
Mauer believes most people understand that Cayman is a safe destination.
“It is the path to get to the island, spending time in airports or on planes, is what people are worried about,” he said.
Travel restrictions have had a direct impact in some cases, with several Asian travellers, scheduled to arrive for a conference in March, cancelling their booking.
The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman has seen similar impact, including cancellations from corporate groups following company directives to suspend official travel.
Marc Langevin, general manager of the hotel, said, “We are also expecting some erosion from international groups whose attendees could be travelling from regions that are currently banned from entry into the Cayman Islands.”
Mauer added that staff at the Westin are taking calls about the issue every day, but it has not been a major problem as yet.
“If something happens closer to the island or in one of our big hubs like Miami or Atlanta, that is a genuine concern,” he said.
There is a flip side, however. Langevin said that The Ritz-Carlton has experienced increased interest from guests considering changing family summer vacation plans from Asia or Europe.
“At the moment, we have no reason for concern. We are closely monitoring the situation’s evolution, with our best hopes that it won’t impact our destination negatively,” he added.
Langevin said he does not see the impact of the virus stalling the enormous tourism growth Cayman has seen in the last several years. He said positive messaging about the safety and security of the island was essential.
Local management at the Kimpton Seafire Resort referred all questions to their head office, which issued a statement saying, “We can’t provide a running commentary on potential impacts to our business.”
The statement added, “The health and wellbeing of our guests and employees are our top priority. We’re closely monitoring the situation and adjusting policies as needed.”
Globally, the impact on travel is still being assessed, with some analysts predicting panic over the virus could cause the worst crisis the tourism industry has seen since 9/11 in 2001.
CNN reported this week that United Airlines had seen an almost total drop in demand to China and about a 75% decline in near-term demand on the rest of its trans-Pacific routes.
The news organisation also reported a sharp drop in business travel, with several major conferences even cancelled in locations yet to experience an outbreak. The cancellations are because people travelling from around the world could bring the virus to the event, CNN reported.
Cancelled conferences include the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the leading show for the mobile phone industry; the Geneva Motor Show; Facebook’s F8 conference; and ITB Berlin, the leading trade show for the travel industry itself.