Events travel hit by virus outbreak

Hong Kong organiser tells of conferences scrapped as AIME, PCMA and Tourism Australia monitor ‘rapidly changing’ situation

BUSINESS-EVENT organisers and tourism chiefs are monitoring the corona virus outbreak as travel restrictions from mainland China trigger concern across Asia Pacific and large-scale events in Hong Kong face more cancellations.

Among the international business and conference travel-trade shows to be postponed as a result of the outbreak is IT&CM China, which was due to be held in Shanghai in March. Organisers have now postponed the event to August 3-5 “in the interest, wellbeing and safety of all valued delegates and stakeholders”.

The outbreak has led to one Hong Kong event organiser having three projects cancelled in as many days as clients put conferences on hold – and he fears more is yet to come.

“I feel it’s going to have a great impact on events in Hong Kong and mainland China. My company has had three events in Hong Kong, mainland China and Bangkok all postponed to an unknown date,” Sam Shei, managing director of Showbiz Creations and president of the local chapter of the International Live Events Association, told MIX.

He was told over the Lunar new year weekend that an event in Guangzhou due to be attended by government leaders is being called off due to officials having to deal with the crisis. He was then hit with the news that an insurance company conference he had worked to relocate from Beijing to Hong Kong has also being postponed.

More on coronavirus leading to events downturn

The plug was pulled on another event in Bangkok in February because nearly 30 per cent of delegates could not travel from China due to restrictions imposed to help curb the outbreak. Shei hopes the event can go ahead in November.

“That is what has happened so far over Chinese New Year for events in February organised by only one company, so I can tell there is going to be a hit on hotels and convention centres,” says Shei, adding that he knows of several company banquets at five-star hotels in the region also being cancelled.

As of February 26, more than 78,000 people in China have so far been diagnosed with the coronavirus with at least 27000 deaths. In South Korea, more than 1,140 cases have been diagnosed with 11 deaths. Worldwide there are nearly 81,000 cases while about 30,000 have recovered from the illness.

More: HK event organisers navigate troubled times

The situation has led to Wuhan and 15 other cities in Hubei province placed on lockdown with travel banned, while Hong Kong has closed most border checkpoints and ordered a 14-day quarantine on people arriving from mainland China. 

An annual marathon and other sports events in Hong Kong have also been cancelled with the city’s Disneyland Resort and Ocean Park closed until further notice. The latest crisis comes as Hong Kong’s tourism and hospitality industry reels from months of anti-government protests.

The outbreak is also expected to have a serious effect on Australia’s tourism industry, which has been struggling to cope with the fallout from bushfires that have spread across rural regions with occasional days of pollution in Melbourne and Sydney.

AIME seeks to ease bushfire concerns

Business event travellers from China, including incentive groups and trade-show buyers, are a prime market for Tourism Australia and suppliers across the country.

Philippa Harrison, Tourism Australia managing director, says the government agency is there to advise if people in the industry are concerned about restrictions on travel from China. Like other organisations, Tourism Australia has listed websites (see below) providing updates on the outbreak.

“We know that it has been an incredibly tough start to 2020, with the bushfires and now coronavirus impacting travel from our largest market at the busiest time of year,” Harrison said in a statement. “We’re a resilient bunch and we will get through this but these are challenging times. If there is anything, I or my colleagues here at Tourism Australia can do for you, please contact us. We are in this together.”

Talk2Media, which manages the annual AIME incentive and meetings event in Melbourne, says updates from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Australian government concerning group travel from China are being tracked.

Spotlight: In event of a crisis…

A spokesman for AIME says the rapidly changing situation is being monitored particularly with regards to attendees planning to travel from China. Buyers and other attendees are advised to check updates from WHO and the Australian authorities  as the February 17-19 show at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre approaches.

“AIME is monitoring the situation as it unfolds and following advice issued by official authorities. AIME is currently proceeding and we are looking forward to the event in February. We will continue to communicate any event updates.”

PCMA has issued a set of guidelines to its members but says none have so far declared that any of their projects have been affected by the outbreak.

The Chicago-headquartered organisation has created a special webpage to give guidance about the outbreak.

“We recommend that our community monitors updates from local, national and international public health departments and agencies. PCMA continues to monitor the rapidly developing situation,” a spokesman said.


World Health Organisation

Australia Government Dept of Health

Tourism Australia: health updates

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