The UK travel and tourism industry is bracing for the impact of Covid-19 as a leading industry body said the global pandemic could cost 50m travel jobs around the world and as British Airways warned the virus is creating an unprecedented crisis.
Gloria Guevara, the chief executive of the World Travel and Tourism Council, said the outbreak presents a “significant threat” to the industry and has warned the travel sector could shrink by a quarter in 2020.
While major UK attractions including the Tower of London remained open on Friday, airlines including British Airways and easyJet have curtailed flights and cruise ship firm Princess Cruises has suspended operations for 60 days.
Ms Guevara said: “The Covid-19 outbreak clearly presents a significant threat to the industry as a whole, to those employed within it, and those wishing to continue travelling.”
Her comments came as Alex Cruz, the head of British Airways, warned that aircraft warned that aircraft would be parked like never before and staff laid off in a hard-hitting staff message to address the worsening situation.
“It is a crisis of global proportions like no other we have known,” he said in a message headlined “the survival of British Airways”. “Please do not underestimate the seriousness of this for our company.”
He said the airline was more resilient “than ever before” but said it was “under immense pressure”.
‘Immense pressure’ on the industry
There are more than 133,000 cases of Covid-19 around the world and nearly 5,000 people have died, according to the latest data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Saga, the travel company for the over-50s, has cancelled its cruise sailings until May after the Government said people over 70 should avoid cruises.
It said it will be offering customers a full refund or credit for future sailings in a move that will result in a loss in £10m to £15m in pre-tax profits for its cruise business and it would take additional action including cost-cutting if necessary.
It said: “There are a range of further mitigating actions the group will take, including additional cost efficiencies and reducing discretionary spend.”
Fred Olsen, the British-based, Norwegian-owned cruise firm, have also paused sailings until 23 May saying the outbreak was making it “increasingly difficult to be able to guarantee the safety of our guests and crew”.
Five passengers on board one of its ships, the Braemar, have tested positive for Covid-19, which was loading a consignment of food and medical supplies at the Bahamas on Friday.
The International Air Transport Association has warned following that collapse of Flybe that more airlines could collapse if the pandemic lasts another two or three months.
Alexandre de Juniac, the association’s chief executive, said the industry’s losses – estimated before Donald Trump curbed flights to the US from Europe – would probably be above £89m.
The body has called on governments to cut taxes on struggling airlines – with carriers serving Italy, Germany and France the most at risk.
UKHospitality, which represents 700 businesses, said hotel occupancy has already fallen by 15 percent, while eating and drinking out has declined by seven percent.
It wrote to Boris Johnson ahead of the Budget calling for urgent help, with forward bookings for hotels, restaurants, pubs and bars have fallen by up to 50 percent.
Kate Nicholls, UKHospitality’s chief executive said: “There has been a significant impact on the sector. Bookings are down, footfall is down, and all signs point to it getting worse before it gets better. This is now an emergency for our sector.”
The Tower of London remained open on Friday. Historic Royal Palaces said it planned to stay open but would follow any future Government guidance.
It said it had introduced a “whole host of additional measures” including installing hand sanitiser at 27 locations across the tower including the guards’ boxes and souvenir shops, and had issued staff with the latest NHS advice on handwashing.
A spokesman for Abta said: “We are seeing the very best of the industry, with companies showing flexibility and resilience.”