Tourism & Corona: The Way Ahead


“What is the solution to the coronavirus and the Chinese tourism market, and is there something we can do to mitigate losses?” wonders Luang Prabang View General Manager John Morris Williams, who has some 30 years of experience in the tourism and hospitality business, before offering three simple suggestions.

Laos Coronavirus

Don’t Drop Room Rates

My advice to hoteliers, and in particular to the sales teams out there, is that they need to think and act rationally. First, let’s get some basic understanding of the situation. The coronavirus outbreak is a unique one-off incident, and as such needs to be treated in context.

Drastically dropping room rates as a knee jerk reaction is not going to improve the situation, particularly if you are in a business destination.

If you need proof of this theory, note what hotels in Hong Kong have done over the past six months in the face of protests. Most hotels had their occupancies go off the cliff, but they still decided to hold on to their rates. The rationale is that people who are coming to Hong Kong need to be there anyway, and it is not because they got a hotel discount.

Focus More on Domestic Travel

The second recommendation I would like to make is both to the industry at large as well as to the governments. Nations like India, Indonesia, and Thailand should be looking sharply at domestic tourism that has time and again increased the resilience of the industry in the wake of global adversities.

A case in point…back in 2003, when SARS hit the region, unfortunately coinciding with the Iraq war, most Indians chose to travel domestically rather than overseas. This was a turnaround year for Goa, which until then had been a seasonal tourist market. It also fueled domestic tourism in a very big way in the country.

Hence, governments can perhaps give tax concessions to encourage local travel and stays. After all, the travel and tourism sector employs one in every 10 people, and governments can ill afford to let them be bystanders.

Be Nice to the Chinese

Finally, let’s stop all the insensitivity towards Chinese tourists. Until recently, most tourism and hotel professionals were dying to get a piece of the Chinese pie; however, in the past week, in countries like South Korea, signs have begun popping up on restaurant and hotel windows saying, ‘No Chinese Allowed’, and a casino in the country has stopped accepting Chinese visitors. Similar cases are being seen in Japan too.

This is not limited to Asia; a French regional newspaper called it the ‘yellow alert’, which is outright racist, considering the xenophobic term ‘yellow peril’ was used for the people of East Asia dating back to the 19th century. In Denmark, the country’s ‘Jyllands-Posten’ newspaper published an editorial cartoon depicting China’s flag with virus symbols in place of stars on the red background.

We believe that as reputable and respectable hotel brands, turning business away or any phobia against Chinese tourists will tarnish goodwill in the long run. One must not forget that business is a numbers game, and with Chinese travel, the numbers do make a huge impact. They will be back sooner than you think.

Hotel brands should instead have set policies and corporate directives to tackle such sensitive situations to ensure that Chinese tourists do not feel harassed. Operationally, the resort/hotel doctor needs to be equipped with the necessary means to deal with such situations, and the management must make it mandatory for the tourists to report to the nearest hospital instead of causing mass hysteria.

In conclusion, one hopes that this challenge, too, will be overcome sooner than later. We all live in a fragile world and we should not be throwing stones from a glass house.

Note: Laos has no confirmed cases of the coronavirus, and has taken several precautionary measures to ensure the country remains free from the ailment. Chinese arrivals to Laos has soared in recent years, and topped 1 million in 2019 on a 27% y-o-y leap.