There are fears British tourism could be impacted by the coronavirus outbreak after flights travelling to and from China were grounded by British Airways.
Chinese visitor numbers to the UK have seen dramatic growth in recent years, with VisitBritain having predicted they would reach 483,000 in 2019, up 43% on 2017. The authority had also reported that Chinese visitors were some of the highest spenders, parting with an average of £2,059 per visit, more than three times the all-market average.
Earlier today (29 January) British Airways suspended all flights to and from mainland China and if the virus - which has claimed more than 130 lives, with reports of cases across China and in at least 16 other countries - continues to spread other airlines are expected to limit travel with further restrictions.
Additionally, the UK Foreign Office has advised “against all travel to Hubei Province due to the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak". It has also advised against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China.”
VisitBritain director, Patricia Yates, said: “Chinese authorities as well as the UK Government and global organisations such as the World Health Organisation and the international community are all working very hard to limit the impact of the coronavirus with the health and safety of people rightly the priority.
“With the Chinese authorities suspending outbound travel, the Foreign Office advising against all but essential travel and BA subsequently cancelling flights there is an obvious and immediate knock-on impact for the tourism industry, and we are working closely with our team in China and across government and industry to monitor and assess the situation.
"The extent of the impact on the industry depends on the length of the suspension of travel. It is currently low season for trips from China to the UK, with only about 15% of holiday trips taking place from January to March. We would hope for a subsequent surge in bookings when the suspension is over. Although the impact of SARS was significant in 2002-3 the recovery was robust within months.
“China is one of the UK’s top 10 most valuable inbound visitor markets and has been showing strong growth. Forward flight bookings from China to the UK had been showing double-digit growth at 27% for arrivals during the coming six months.”
Travel firm Expedia had also reported that between January and September 2019 there was a 155% year-on-year increase in travel from mainland China to the UK across the period.