People walk across a street in Banff, Alta., in Banff National Park, Friday, July 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Chinese tourists cancel trips to Canadian hotspots such as Banff, Yellowknife

Tourism promoters in Banff and Lake Louise have seen minimal impact so far, are monitoring situation

Tour companies and hotels in destinations popular with Chinese tourists are starting to see cancellations after the coronavirus has led to mass quarantines and 170 deaths in China.

The World Health Organization on Thursday declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern.”

There are three confirmed cases in Canada and all are linked to recent travel in China.

Travel agencies in China have been told to halt all group tours, the state-owned China Daily newspaper reported, citing the China Association of Travel Services.

Travel Alberta, which works to promote tourism to the province, said it is hearing about cancellations from tour operators and hotels.

“We have not had mass waves of cancellations,” CEO Royce Chwin said in an interview. “We’ve had some cancellations — although I don’t have a qualified number.”

The cancellations include group tours to Jasper and Banff in the Rocky Mountains, he said.

Banff Lake Louise Tourism said in a statement that it has seen a minimal impact so far, but noted that staff are monitoring the situation.

“It’s early days so (we) can’t fully anticipate the impact,” said Angela Anderson, director of communications. “We are encouraging all businesses in our destination to help make any changes or cancellations as easy as possible and penalty-free.

“China is an important market for us, so we are hopeful the situation gets under control as soon as possible.”

Travel Alberta is also pausing its consumer marketing activities in China.

READ MORE: U.S. reports first case of human-to-human transmission of coronavirus

Hysan Lee, owner and operator of Aurora Holiday Tours in Yellowknife, said he’s had about 200 cancellations in the last few weeks.

“This morning, I got five emails,” he said Thursday.

The company books tours and hotels for Chinese people travelling to the Northwest Territories.

Lee said he’s offering a full refund for the cancellations, which were mostly for February and March.

Discover Banff Tours declined to comment and other tour companies in B.C. and Alberta didn’t respond to requests for interviews.

Travel Alberta’s Chwin said he hasn’t heard about any operators or hotels that are overly worried.

“Everybody is just being proactive and has general concern, obviously, for the general well-being of people first and secondly how it might impact the business,” he said. “We’re just seeing a bit of trickle here.”

The impact, he said, is nowhere near what it was in 2003 when SARS, a viral respiratory illness also caused by a coronavirus, hit Toronto.

“SARS was centred in Canada where this is not,” said Chwin. “Canada is not the focus of attention. It really did hurt the industry back in the day when SARS happened, while this (new coronavirus) is centred in China.

“It’s not really a relevant comparison.”

— With files from The Associated Press

The Canadian Press

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