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Since our reporting late last week that China had shut down three cities due to the Novel Coronavirus, the country has since cancelled all domestic and outbound group tours until further notice; causing all non-essential travel activities to come to a halt during one of the country’s busiest travel seasons—the Chinese New Year—a week-long national holiday.

As of Sunday night, more than 2,000 cases of the infection had been reported around the country and 56 deaths confirmed, with most cases still reported around the city of Wuhan.

China Cancels Group tours
Views of the Great Wall of China.

The China Travel Service Association (CTSA) announced over the weekend a temporary suspension of all group tours and package trips, what it calls “hotel and air ticket services” within China and abroad. Trips that are currently taking place will be able to finish, as are any scheduled for a departure today—Jan. 27. The statement came after an order from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism on January 24th, where it asked for the halt of all sales for group tours and travel packages.

Travelers heading to the region for the Chinese New Year will be disappointed as major attractions such as the Forbidden City, the Terracotta Warriors, and sections of the Great Wall of China near Beijing, Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland, as well as Hong Kong’s Ocean Park have been shut down.

How Does This Affect International Travelers Heading to China

But what does this mean for international travel? Some U.S.-based tour operators are following the lead of those abroad, while others continue to monitor the situation.

“China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism issued an official notice requesting local travel companies to suspend travel services for all groups from January 24, 2020 until further notice,” says G Adventures’ communications manager Tim Chan.

He adds that, “G Adventures trips departing up to and including February 29th, 2020 will be cancelled and travellers will have the option to postpone their trip, transfer to an alternative tour, or to cancel their tour and receive a full refund.

“The safety and wellbeing of our travellers continues to be G Adventures’ top priority and our local team will continue to monitor the situation and update travellers and agents on any changes to future departures,” he adds.

As for Avanti Destination, which said it currently has individual travelers in China for the Chinese New Year celebrations with more scheduled to travel there soon, CEO Paul Barry notes that it’s been a busy few days for his team. “We and our DMC in China have been busy in the past week and over the weekend rerouting or cancelling bookings to China for the next few weeks,” says Barry. “Some of those scheduled to come to China as part of a multi-destination Asian vacation are staying longer in Thailand or Japan, for example.”
Pacific Delight Tours is taking a more cautious approach, as they continue to monitor the situation before making any further travel decisions. “China—out of an abundance of caution—closed the Terracotta exhibit in Xian. News is still sketchy because it is a new virus with unknown properties so anything being said is guesswork and fanning the flames of anxiety,” says Michael Kong, managing director of Pacific Delight Tours.
U.S. tour operators cancel or reroute tours to China.

“Agents—and their clients,” says Barry, “should bear in mind that the highly-contagious A & B flu strains here in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control, have sickened about 15 million people, resulting in 140,000 hospitalizations and 8,200 deaths so far this 2019-2020 season. And yet few people here, outside of healthcare professionals, worry about it.”

As for what you should be doing? Continue to monitor the situation and stay informed, without going into a state of hysteria or causing your clients further anxiety.

“All we can say and do is to keep a close eye and keep everyone informed. We don’t want to add to the conjectures,” notes Kong.

We have more on the Novel Coronavirus, check out our Q&A with Dr. William Spangler, global medical director with AIG Travel, who answered a few questions regarding travel precautions, airline hygiene and more, “Novel Coronavirus Travel Questions—What to Tell Wary Travelers.”