TORONTO — Global concerns regarding coronavirus (COVID-19) and its impacts continue to grow as the situation develops, and many experts agree it will have a notable impact on economies, as well as the travel-and-tourism industry.
On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. The virus has rapidly spread to more than 121,000 people in more than 100 countries since it was first reported on December 31, 2019.
On March 11, the Government of Canada outlined its whole-of-government response to COVID-19, which includes changes to employment insurance and the Work-Sharing program to help affected workers and businesses. The Public Health Agency of Canada has also posted guidelines intended to help event planners gauge the risk associated with mass gatherings such as conferences.
In fact, Ontario’s first identified instance of suspected community transmission (local spread of the virus that isn’t linked to international travel) is believed to be linked to the patient’s attendance of the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s conference in Toronto on March 2 and 3.
Travel insurers, including Canadian providers Manulife and TuGo, have also begun revising their coverage to exclude cancelations due to COVID-19 on new plans.
“What has become clear over the past few weeks is that the situation is evolving daily and having a significant impact on our industry,” reads a recent statement from the Hotel Association of Canada. The association has also compiled a number of resources to guide and support the industry, which is available on its website.
Over the course of the last month, hotel companies have been amending cancellation policies and rewards programs in light of the evolving public-health situation. Marriott International has waived cancellation fees for hotel stays through March 31 for guests travelling to countries that have been most impacted by COVID-19 outbreaks.
Hyatt’s loyalty program, World of Hyatt, is offering members residing in the Asia-Pacific region a series of tier status and benefits extensions. World of Hyatt is also working to evaluate tier and benefit extensions for global members who travel frequently to the Asia-Pacific region. In February, World of Hyatt also extended tier expiration for Hyatt Discoverist, Explorist and Globalist rewards members in the Asia-Pacific region to February 28, 2022. Suite Upgrade Awards, Club Access Awards and Free Night Awards that were set to expire in 2020 for qualifying members are also extended through Dec.31, 2021.
And, on March 2, Hyatt announced it’s withdrawing its previously announced 2020 outlook and earnings sensitivity based on Greater China RevPAR, partially due to new corporate travel restrictions in North America and Europe, as well as near-term cancellations outside of Greater China, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. On March 10, Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. took a similar measure, withdrawing its first-quarter and full-year 2020 outlook.
“With the coronavirus now spreading beyond China and the Asia-Pacific region, and the related increase in travel restrictions and cancellations around the world, we believe that the potential negative impact will be greater than our previous estimate and have decided to withdraw our previously announced guidance,” says Christopher J. Nassetta, president & CEO, Hilton. “We’ll provide an update during our first-quarter earnings call, based on the information we have available at the time.”
Wyndham Hotels & Resorts is waiving cancellation and change penalties for guests travelling to or from Greater China, South Korea or Italy through March 31 and is extending current Wyndham Rewards member status for all Gold, Platinum and Diamond members from Greater China and Southeast Asia Pacific Rim regions through the end of 2021.
Similarly, Best Western Hotels & Resorts (BWHR) is allowing global Best Western Rewards (BWR) members to retain their current status through Jan. 31, 2022. It’s also leveling up BWR members who downgraded a tier at the end of 2019 to their previous tier, as well as allowing members to donate reward points to Best Western for a Better World, which has committed to supporting those impacted by the virus worldwide.
“The impact of the coronavirus on the travel industry is far-reaching,” says David Kong, president and CEO, BWHR. “We’re also working diligently to support our hoteliers who have, and will continue to experience, declines in business as a result of the virus.”