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U.S. tourism industry will face economic impact from coronavirus, Mason professor says

February 7, 2020

Min Park

As the coronavirus continues to spread, the travel and tourism industry is headed into a downward spiral, according to Min Park, associate professor of tourism and events management in Mason’s College of Education and Human Development.

“There’s no question that the spread of the coronavirus will have a serious impact on tourism,” said Park.

Chinese tourists make up 11% of 1.4 billion international arrivals, said Park.

“If Chinese tourists aren’t traveling because of coronavirus, it can’t help but have a huge impact, especially the longer the crisis lasts,” said Park.

The United States is the fifth most popular destination for Chinese travelers, behind Thailand, Japan, Vietnam and South Korea, said Park. However, travel between the U.S. and China is being severely restricted in the wake of the virus’ spread. The U.S. government has begun implementing stringent rules pertaining to travel from China. And the airline industry has also responded, with Delta, United and American Airlines suspending flights between the U.S. and China.

While the travel restrictions between the two countries will potentially save lives, they will also inevitably affect tourism sites that rely upon Chinese travelers, said Park. Tourism-related businesses in the Washington, D.C., area can expect to be negatively affected until at least April, said Park.

Other U.S. top destinations visited by Chinese travelers, including New York, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco and Las Vegas will also be hurt, said Park.

“Most of all, we are concerned about the health of people, and we have to put that before economic concerns,” said Park. “But in the meantime, tourism marketing agencies that are promoting areas dependent on tourists from China may need to revisit their marketing plan.”

Park said that the crisis is reminiscent of the SARS outbreak in 2003, which deeply affected the travel and tourism industry.

“The next two to three weeks will be vital to understanding how this outbreak will develop,” said Park. “People in the tourism industry will have to watch closely for the updates from the health experts.”

If the coronavirus continues to spread, international travel could plummet, said Park. For now, the State Department issued an advisory warning Americans not to travel to China because of the coronavirus, but that has not been extended to other countries. Travelers going outside the U.S. should monitor the State Department advisories to see if more countries are added to the warning, said Park.

But, at this point, “there’s no reason to panic and cancel every trip,” said Park.

Min Park’s research focuses on tourism development of rural communities, visitor management in urban areas, and social impacts of tourism. An active member of the research team in Mason’s School of Sport, Recreation, and Tourism Management, she has worked on a series of collaborative research projects with the National Park Service on the National Mall and Memorial Parks Management Plan. She can be reached at 703-993-7194 or mparka@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Anna Stolley Persky at 703-993-8813 or apersky@gmu.edu.

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 38,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility. Learn more at www2.gmu.edu.