Global travel, tourism industries hit hard during coronavirus outbreak, experts say

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- "This morning I had six cancellations, four domestic, two international. Friday I had three international," said Annette Ayala who runs her own travel business, The Agency.

She's been a travel agent for more than 35 years and works with about 50 to 60 corporate clients a year.

In the last two weeks, her business has taken a big hit.

"About 30 cancellations. We're not making any money right now, we're just cancelling," she said.

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On average, she's spending 30 to 50 minutes per airline for her clients, many of whom are paying between $200-500 for change fees, per ticket.

"The best ones right now for waiving are JetBlue and Alaska Airlines," Ayala said. "Case to case waivers with United Airlines. American Airlines, we just read this morning, starting March 1st thru march 16th, they are waiving everything."

At the San Francisco International Airport, in addition to cancelled direct flights from China and flights from Hong Kong, reduced to one a day, more airlines are following suit.

"About a 50 percent reduction in flights to South Korea, about 25 percent reduction in flights to Singapore and then 10 percent to places like Taiwan and Japan," said Doug Yakel, spokesperson for SFO.

The CDC is still on site at SFO and officials are following their guidelines to only screen travelers who have been to Mainland China recently.

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As per usual, facilities are being cleaned once an hour, but the airport has also deployed more hand sanitizing stations while prepping gear to do deep decontamination if necessary.

Travel industry experts, like the ones at Skift, an online trade publication that follows trends in the global travel industry, says it's a bad situation for airlines.

"At the four major airlines, we are talking hundreds and thousands of jobs and if things don't improve, a lot of them could be laid off or furloughed," says Brian Sumers, senior aviation business editor at Skift. "There are a lot of folks out there that think this is going to be the worst quarter for US airlines since maybe 9/11 or the great financial recession of 2008-2009. It's really that bad about there."

Ayala knows airlines are in tough spot, but so are clients.

She hopes they will show more compassion and flexibility.

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Ayala says hotels have been more accommodating with cancellations. Her best advice -- get a travel agent who can advocate for you when seeking cancellations, changes and refunds.

"If you travel May, June or July, don't panic yet just see where this goes and you can always still cancel it later on," she said.

Sumers says the impact on the industry will be much more clear when airlines report their quarterly earnings.
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