Tourism virus

The Wuhan coronavirus crisis has become more than just a health issue and is the first spanner to affect the works of the tourism sector this year.

The situation goes to show just how sensitive this industry is, when good forecasts can collapse when faced with any number of unforeseen circumstances.

China is an emerging market of tourists and Spain has only just started to benefit from its share of it. The Chinese tourist, however, is an attractive one, due to their high spending and consumerist tendencies.

The Chinese are also the ideal tourists for Malaga and the Costa del Sol, where the urban and cultural attractions are complemented by tourism staples such as the Alhambra in Granada, a flamenco show and traditional Andalusian cuisine.

In fact Andalucía is the third favourite destination for Chinese visitors to Spain and Malaga Airport is their gateway to the region.

Now the problem is not just the Chinese tourists' flights and reservations that have already been cancelled; it is the dimension that this outbreak, which has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO), could reach.

This experience shows that this type of incident causes a slump in the tourism industry that is difficult to recover from, as it revives a fear of travel and a better-not-risk-it attitude.

The decisions by the most important airlines to cancel their flights to China, or by the shipping lines (which had made a huge investment in this market) to cancel their operations, goes to show that this industry is the first to contribute towards avoiding the spread of the virus, always putting the safety of its customers before its interests.

And all this is going on while the United Kingdom is finalising its divorce from the European Union. We can only hope that the tourism industry is right to be confident that the British will remain loyal to the Costa del Sol as a holiday destination.

But this unchanging fondness of the Costa is fine so long as it is not compromised by the obstacles and challenges that not just tourists, but also travel agencies and airlines could have to deal with after the Brexit transition period is over next year.

We'll have to wait and see.