ANALYSIS: Flu pandemic may cripple travel industry

FLORIANOPOLIS (Brazil): If the influenza A (H1N1) outbreak turns into a full-blown global pandemic, consequences for the travel industry could be devastating, a respected economist told a world travel conference here on Friday.
“The effects on the tourism industry would be very, very severe,” John Walker, head of the British firm Oxford Economics, said as he presented forecasts his firm had prepared for the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The worst-case scenario could see the number of travellers dropping by 25 to 30 percent, and the global economy hit with more than US$2 trillion (RM7.12 trillion) in losses, he told the Global Travel and Tourism Summit organised by the World Travel and Tourism Council in the southern Brazilian resort of Florianopolis.

Although he and other top participants at the event all observed that the H1N1 flu outbreak had so far been relatively mild outside of Mexico, they cautioned that its possible return in mutated form in the winter left little cause for comfort.

A pandemic limited to just a few countries would have little overall effect because people would likely just shift their vacation destinations away from affected spots, he explained, based on what happened during the 2003 SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic in China.
But a generalised spread of H1N1 could cause the world economy to lose US$2.2 trillion spread over this year and next year, compared with US$25 billion in the case of SARS.