Bali to Bangkok: China virus threatens disaster for tourist hotspots

JAKARTA/BANGKOK, Jan 28 (Reuters) - The colorful dances of Bali's annual Kintamani Festival have fallen victim to coronavirus -- and travel restrictions to halt its spread could prove costly for other places that rely on Chinese tourists.

Promoted by the Indonesian island as a draw for Chinese holidaymakers, the Feb. 8 festival to celebrate the marriage of an ancient king of Bali to a Chinese princess has been called off in anticipation of a collapse in visitor numbers.

In other Asian destinations, too, fear of the virus is accompanied by worries that business is about to disappear.

"Restaurants, tourist attractions and small businesses in the villages will be affected," said Ketut Ardana, a business owner and vice-chairman of the Bali Tourism Board.

"It will have a big impact on everyone."

With a growing area of China in lockdown to try to stop the spread of the virus and overseas group tours banned, he said Bali had already seen nearly 10,000 tourist cancellations.

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China coronavirus outbreak spreads across regions
A traveler wears a face mask as he sits in a waiting room at the Beijing West Railway Station in Beijing, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A fourth person has died in an outbreak of a new coronavirus in China, authorities said Tuesday, as more places stepped up medical screening of travelers from the country as it enters its busiest travel period. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
A girl wearing a face mask sits among suitcases at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Face masks sold out and temperature checks at airports and train stations became the new norm as China strove Tuesday to control the outbreak of a new coronavirus that has reached four other countries and territories and threatens to spread further during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Travelers wearing face masks gather at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Face masks sold out and temperature checks at airports and train stations became the new norm as China strove Tuesday to control the outbreak of a new coronavirus that has reached four other countries and territories and threatens to spread further during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
Staff in biohazard suits hold a metal stretcher by the in-patient department of Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a novel coronavirus are being treated, in Wuhan, China, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. Heightened precautions were being taken in China and elsewhere Tuesday as governments strove to control the outbreak of the coronavirus, which threatens to grow during the Lunar New Year travel rush. (AP Photo/Dake Kang)
Peatones con máscaras de protección en una zona comercial de Tokio, el jueves 16 de enero de 2020. (AP Foto/Eugene Hoshiko)
Health workers wear protective gear Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2003, in Ward E3 of the Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital in Hong Kong's New Territories, where 24 patients were quarantined after seven of its health workers developed flu-like symptoms, although none have tested positive for SARS. According to a hospital spokesperson five nurses and two health care assistants working in the hospital's Ward E3 developed symptoms such as coughs, sore throats and fevers on Friday. Hong Kong's health chief, Dr.Yeoh Eng-kiong, said that preliminary test results showed patients' samples did not contain coronavirus that causes SARS and researchers are trying to identify the cause of the illness. (AP Photo/Anat Givon)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Workers monitor screens for fever signs on passengers detected by infrared detectors at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Passengers wearing protective masks walk inside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Passengers wearing protective masks walk outside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
WUHAN, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Passengers wearing protective masks walk inside Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. A new type of coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in the city.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - JANUARY 21: Chinese travellers wear protective masks as they arrive to board trains at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China. The number of cases of a deadly new coronavirus rose to nearly 300 in mainland China Tuesday as health officials stepped up efforts to contain the spread of the pneumonia-like disease which medicals experts confirmed can be passed from human to human. The number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to six on Tuesday and cases have been reported in other parts of Asia including in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
YICHANG, CHINA - JANUARY 21 2020: Travelers wearing protective masks walk outside a railway station in Yichang in central China's Hubei province Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020. China has stepped up the measures to control the spread of the new coronavirus that has infected hundreds of people in China.- PHOTOGRAPH BY Feature China / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Feature China / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
BEIJING, CHINA - JANUARY 21: A Chinese girl wears a protective mask as her mother pushes her on a suitcase to board a train at Beijing Railway station before the annual Spring Festival on January 21, 2020 in Beijing, China. The number of cases of a deadly new coronavirus rose to nearly 300 in mainland China Tuesday as health officials stepped up efforts to contain the spread of the pneumonia-like disease which medicals experts confirmed can be passed from human to human. The number of those who have died from the virus in China climbed to six on Tuesday and cases have been reported in other parts of Asia including in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
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Just weeks after the disease emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, it has already infected more than 4,500 people and killed at least 106.

Thailand, the top destination for China's holidaymakers, forecast that Chinese tourist numbers would fall by as much as 2 million this year from 11 million in 2019.

"If they close China, we will die," complained Teerawat Buakaw, 33, who sells clothes at a Big C store popular with Chinese tourists in Bangkok, the world's most-visited city because of its Chinese tourist numbers.

"All the shops around here will go. What will we do?"

China's boom in outbound tourism has created a pattern of international travel unprecedented in human history and driven the growth of businesses to serve Chinese travelers around the world. From a trickle in the 1980s, Chinese tourist numbers grew to estimates of more than 160 million in 2019.

Coronavirus may have pulled the plug.

 

VULNERABLE

"Among the most vulnerable sectors to the Wuhan virus epidemic are the Asia-Pacific travel and tourism sectors," wrote Rajiv Biswas, Asia Pacific Chief Economist at IHS Markit.

"The Thai economy is particularly vulnerable to the new Chinese travel restrictions."

Thai stocks fell further on Tuesday to a new three-year low after slumping as much as 3% on Monday.

Thailand earned an estimated $18 billion from Chinese tourists in 2019. Other countries popular with Chinese tourists include Japan, with nearly 10 million visitors, and Vietnam with around 5 million.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand said it hoped other countries would make up for the lack of Chinese tourists, but Thailand must also contend with having had more coronavirus infections than anywhere outside China -- 14 so far.

Luxury tour operator Abercrombie & Kent Thailand Ltd., which has no Chinese customers, said it had not had cancellations yet.

Elsewhere in the region, immigration authorities in the Philippines said they would stop issuing tourist visas on arrival to Chinese nationals to try to keep the country free of the virus -- hurting a growing business there.

Malaysian authorities said their "Visit Malaysia 2020" plan to boost tourist numbers by 5 million to 30 million would take a jolt, but they still hoped to make up the numbers. Malaysia had nearly 5 million Chinese visitors last year.

Hoteliers in the beach playground of Bali hoped the same. China has become an ever bigger source of tourists for them -- their number regularly surpassing that of the traditional Australia hordes.

"Bali only has tourism. If there are no tourists, it is difficult for us," Ardana said. "We hope that other countries will still be coming."

(Additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng, Orathai Sriring and Kay Johnson in Bangkok; Krishna N. Das and Liz Lee in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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