Coronavirus causes billionaire cost to the MICE Industry. Can COVID-19 be contained?

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Posted on February 14, 2020

Last week we saw the cancellation of WMC – World Mobile Conference, in Barcelona, because of the coronavirus epidemic. And that was just a few days after seeing huge brands cancelling their participation on the trade show. Without Nokia, Facebook, AT&T and other major brands, the event predicted to happen on Feb 24-27 got canceled too.

GSM Association and conference organizers tried hard to maintain the trade show. They followed recommendations from WHO – World Health Organization, the Chinese government, the Spanish government and all the health protocols. But that was not enough.

COVID-19, a new name for the coronavirus

The health threat corona-virus has a new name: COVID-19. And WMC was not the first and only trade show that got canceled by it going epidemic. It’s also caused to divert cruise ships and make entire mega cities, like Singapore, look incredibly empty. It’s not exaggerated to affirm that COVID-19 is creating a new panic state in the global economy.

After more than a month that the first case got registered, on Jan 13th, we present a current analysis of the situation and what to expect. Here are the future possibilities according to measures that have been taken so far.

Situation analysis and updated numbers

A week ago, on Feb 12, the number of COVID-19 infected people exceeded 42,000, with the total number of deaths at more than 1,100.

Up to date numbers as of today include 1,800 deaths and 72,400 registered cases globally. 92 of these cases being a human-to-human transmission out of China.

SOS alert: epidemic health risks, crisis management and the WMC 2020 case.

The coronavirus is an epidemic that will still have consequences in many sectors, especially the MICE industry, and in the coming months will still have negative impacts. With the WHO (World Health Organization) declaring a global health emergency, governments in several countries have restricted travel and airlines have suspended flights leaving or bound for China.

A good example is the WMC itself. Crisis management actions have been taken by GSMA, World Mobile Conference organizer. Those included: 

  • Intensified cleaning and disinfection of all places where there would be many points of contact: handrails, bathrooms, entrances and exits, totems with touch screens;
  • Expanded local medical support teams;
  • Preventive training in hygiene;
  • Exhibitors instructed to clean and disinfect their booths more frequently,

These measures would also be valid to guide participating hotels, restaurants, shops and transportation networks.

Still, organizers were not able to secure a safe place and due to the recent epidemic chaos, GSMA cancelled the 2020 edition of the largest world’s mobile trade show. Barcelona will lose a typical USD 500 million boost on it’s economy, coming yearly from WMC.

MICE and Tourism Industry being largely affected by the epidemic coronavirus

According to Global Data, China left the position of the fourth largest emitter of tourists in the world, with 47.7 million people traveling in 2009, to become the largest emitter, with 159 million tourists traveling in 2019. That represented 12 , 2% of all outbound travelers.

Asian hotspots like Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan and Vietnam are likely to be the most negatively affected, while places like the US and Europe could experience a greater impact if the outbreak is long-lasting. Thai officials estimate a potential loss of revenue at 50 billion baht, about $ 1.6 billion.

China is currently the fifth largest source of foreign tourism to the U.S., with about 3 million Chinese travelers visiting the country in 2018 and spending more than $ 36 billion in the process. New York City, in particular, could be one of the most affected if the outbreak persists, as China is the second largest source of foreign visitors to the city.

What to expect for the upcoming months

Until the end of April, WHO expects to raise and spend US$675 million to support health organisations and public health activities to prepare for and respond to infections. The plan includes measures such as limiting human-to-human transmission and minimizing the social/economic impact.

That means that during these next two months, at least, popular MICE destinations, such as Singapore, can expect a drop on 20-50% on their overseas visitors.

UBS analyst Tao Wang spoke to Nasdaq and said that the epidemic has not reached its outbreak peak yet: “It may take until end February, after people returning from the Chinese New Year holidays have gone through the two-week virus incubation period, before a more affirmative assessment can be made”.

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