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Tourism operators worry about impact of virus

Covid-19 is being called the worst thing to hit world tourism since 9/11, and some local operators are very worried.

Industry veteran Mark O'Connor, who leads a group for Bermuda Food Tours each week, said he's already seen one tour group cancel due to the cancellation of a convention at one of the larger hotels.

“I don't know how big the convention was,” Mr O'Connor said, “but the group that booked with us had 12 people in it. It is the very beginning of the convention season, so I am quite concerned about the impact of the coronavirus on tourism. People are deciding to not travel at all.”

Mr O'Connor, who has worked in tourism for 20 years, said he didn't remember people cancelling trips so early when severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) broke out between 2002 and 2004.

Conventions worldwide are cancelling due to virus concerns including Google's Cloud Next in San Francisco and Microsoft's MVP Summit in Seattle.

Heidi Cowen of Bermuda Byways Tours said she has already had three individuals cancel their tours with her.

“One of the folks was plain worried,” she said. “One had an elderly mother and was worried, and one had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Will it affect us? Yes, absolutely. A friend in New York sent photos of Costco running out of thousands of cases of water and canned food. People are prepared to go into hiding.”

But she said, even with the cancellations she is almost fully booked next month.

“Some of my clients have decided that life is short, and are so excited to come to the island for the first time,” Ms Cowen said.

California resident Linda George Brown told The Royal Gazette she is now reconsidering a May trip to Bermuda she has been planning for months.

“The coronavirus has caused us some concern,” she said. “Living in California where we have several residents suffering, we are very aware of the virus and its risks. We stay away from big crowds. We bought masks in our local hardware store after realising that all online seem to be sold out.”

She and her husband Ron weren't so worried about catching the virus in Bermuda, but were more concerned about the aircraft trip to get here.

“We are retired and so are available to travel anytime,” she said. “This might not be the best time to do so. I have checked the cancellation policy at our hotel and we have until the beginning of May to decide. We have no flights yet. We hope to continue with our travel plans to visit Bermuda in mid May but if it seems to be too risky, we'll wait it out and plan it for another time.”

Ralph Richardson, of Winsome Tours and Consulting Limited, said he'd seen a handful of cancellations, but so far their early season tour numbers are in line with other years.

But he thought local hotels, guesthouses and tour operators needed to take extra precautions.

“Tour operations may need to use gloves for cleaning and give instructions like insisting that coughs and sneezes be done into elbows,” he said.

“Wiping down vehicles and vessels after tours may become necessary. Operators may also consider light plastic gloves and hand sanitiser liquid to be used when operating their tours and no shaking hands. This should be the norm now. With 28 people in a tour bus (which is the case with the larger minibuses) the risks should be considered and processes should be put in place to mitigate these risks. Tour boats can carry several more times that number of people and will need to do the same.”

He said Winsome tours would be assessing their risk management procedures as they prepare for this year's tour season.

“These procedures may need to be permanent,” he said. “Some reports suggest that this coronavirus may become a permanent risk every year, just like the flu. Until a vaccine is found and administered, everyone in customer facing areas within the tourism sector, as well as cleaning and maintenance personnel should take extra precaution to protect themselves and their families. We may now have to live with this for the very long term. Whether Bermuda closes its borders to all visitors, will be a call for others. However there is still a lot to learn about this virus and it is very likely that infected people will turn up from our shores from either visitors or Bermudians travelling abroad.”

Bermuda Tourism Authority chairman Paul Telford said the island is still open for business.

“Bermuda is a safe, open and friendly destination — ready to welcome visitors with our genuine hospitality,” Mr Telford said. “Bermuda currently has no reported or suspected cases of coronavirus, and according to the US State Department, Bermuda is a ‘Level 1' destination — the safest destination rank, which recommends travellers exercise normal precautions.”

He said their authorities were working collaboratively to ensure globally-adopted public-health and safety protocols are in place.

“The BTA continues to closely monitor the situation, and in liaison with Bermuda's health ministry, hotels, and other stakeholders, we're focused on helping raise awareness on this issue to protect both residents and visitors,” he said.

Stephen Todd, chief executive officer of Bermuda Hotel Association said their members are continuing to monitor any potential impact through potential cancellations of future planned visitor hotel stays to ensure that as they are contacted, Bermuda's visitors are being informed that Bermuda is a safe destination.

“Our member properties look forward to welcoming visitors to our destination,” Mr Todd said.

Tour operators feel impact: Heidi Cowen, far right, and a tour group, in front of the Bermuda Byways Bus. The tour bus business has had three individuals cancel their tours (Photograph supplied)

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Published March 04, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated March 03, 2020 at 7:45 pm)

Tourism operators worry about impact of virus

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