Travel industry adapts to coronavirus threat, experts say

International Air Transport Association: Crisis could cost airlines $113B

Tourism industry adapts to South Florida travelers' new coronavirus fears
Tourism industry adapts to South Florida travelers' new coronavirus fears

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Claire Savina, who was at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Thursday, said she was appreciative of American Airlines’ willingness to change her flight.

Savina said she received an e-mail from the airline saying they were aware of the new coronavirus threat. Sylvia Berman, a specialist at the Post Haste Travel Service in Hollywood, said companies are doing what they can to protect their reputation during the crisis.

“This is one that has affected more of our clients than any of the others,” Berman said.

Berman, whose family has owned the agency since the 1980s, is among the experts who are saying the travel industry is adapting to a crisis like never before. They are doing so despite great losses when customers are supposed to be booking their spring and summer travel plans.

The International Air Transport Association estimates the crisis could represent about $113 billion in lost revenue for airlines.

Natalie Borghini, the sales manager at Air Projects Travel in Brickell, said airlines are adapting to the environment in creative ways. In an attempt to increase sales, she said American Airlines, Delta and United are incentivizing travel by waiving penalties for those who may want to cancel later.

Borghini said she has also noticed prices decrease: “$800 is a good deal to Brazil and it’s $420. I have never seen that before.”

Travel to Europe is also suffering. European authorities estimate the loss in the European Union at $1.1 billion. Germany’s Lufthansa announced tough restrictions on travelers. British airline Flybe collapsed. The ripple effect is also affecting restauranteurs, museums, bar owners and others whose livelihood depends on tourism.

The World Health Organization urged public health officials worldwide to act against the spread of COVID-19, which has infected more than 98,000 people and killed over 3,300. Italy’s death toll increased to 148 and 12 have died in the United States.

A cruise ship with 3,500 people remains off the coast of California, after a traveler who was in a previous voyage died and three others were infected with the virus.

“That uncertainty is what’s making people scared to either purchase or decide whether they want to continue with their trips or not in the future,” Borghini said. “I have never seen airlines waive penalties like this, so it’s definitely a first.”

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