Coronavirus: We are in an unprecedented situation as the ‘best estimates’ for COVID-19 have been ‘overtaken by the changing reality’

UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) secretary general Zurab Pololikashvil describes the COVID-19 pandemic is an “unprecedented public health emergency” and what has already become an economic crisis which will “come at a social cost”. He added that tourism “is the hardest hit sector and all our best estimates have been overtaken by the changing reality”.

The reality is we don’t know where we are heading – at least in the short-term we can be fairly certain that will be further downwards. This week, schedule data experts OAG said that in one week some twenty-one million airline seats were dropped around the globe as the industry fights its own battle for survival, described as the “single largest ever capacity reductions in one week”.

In the latest of its weekly blog posts on capacity changes, it explains that a 23% capacity reduction in one week leaves us with some 37 million fewer seats than some ten weeks ago. It says some 35% of capacity has been wiped out and warns more is likely to follow in the coming weeks as airlines continually adjust their schedules.

Its analysis does not make good reading. Even worse is the observation that this analysis does not include Emirates Airline’s widespread cancellations, nor the majority of cuts many major airlines have announced but are still working through. “Put another way; next week could be as bad as this week, if not worse,” warns OAG.

There are positives. China’s domestic market sees the return of around 220,000 domestic seats in the week commencing 23-Mar-2020, up +2.4% on the previous week, but still almost half the level recorded in mid Jan-2020. For two consecutive days, Italy, which has the second largest level of cases and most fatalities, has now seen the rate of both decline in growth, hopefully the start of a trend for the better.

The changing reality now sees ale and spirit manufacturers using their alcohol to develop hand sanitiser, Formula One motor racing teams and car manufacturers producing ventilator, even hotels now offering capacity to governments for health care, quarantine or social support purposes. We can and will adapt to the changing reality.

This is happening across the travel sector too. Airlines are offering emergency timetables to support repatriation efforts, but it is investment in technology that could also better support the industry during these troubled times.

One example is technology and hospitality solutions provider Avvio, which has unveiled new ecommerce functionality aimed at supporting hoteliers in recouping potential losses from booking cancellations as a direct result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Easing the burden of unprecedented levels of cancellations, it incentivises guests who want to cancel a booking to purchase a voucher, at a discounted rate, for a returning visit in the future.

Another example is Travelogix, which has tried to reinvent the way TMCs and travel managers view and analyse their travel data. In a major change it has moved the majority of its development team’s focus to the production of a temporary platform to provide clients with up to date information relating to the COVID-19 outbreak and data related to travellers who have travelled, are travelling in or due to travel to affected regions. The application is being provided free of charge to Travelogix clients running its Analytix or Farecast platforms since late last week.

It remains a worrying time. The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) says the coronavirus pandemic is “accelerating”. Speaking at a press briefing in Geneva, General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “It took 67 days from the first reported case to reach 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000 cases, and just four days for the third 100,000 cases. After hitting 300,000 cases on 21-Mar-2020 we will pass 400,000 cases today (24-Mar-2020), reducing it to just three days.

The growth rate of the COVID-19 virus has differed greatly between countries depending on the measures in place to combat the spread. More aggressive containment tactics in countries like Japan and Singapore has slowed the pace of spread of the virus, Germany is performing better than many of its counterparts in Europe, Italy’s lockdown is showing positive signs and Spain and (from last night) the United Kingdom have taken a similar stance.

Just last month Mr Pololikashvil said in an interview: “There’ll be a solution to the COVID-19 issue, there’s no need to panic”. One month on, I wonder if he remains so confident.

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The impact on airlines of the recent COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, which began in China but has spread around the world, continues to have a devastating effect on the aviation and supporting industries. In a new essential daily update, CAPA – Centre for Aviation is curating intelligence from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and myriad industry sources available via its CAPA Membership news and data service. Its mission is to help cut through the noise and provide a useful daily snapshot of the COVID-19 outbreak evolution, together with key industry developments.

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