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Virus threat hit Asian tourism hard

Travel advisories against non-essential travel to China will have big impact on business events

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BEIJING - A deadly virus that has prompted travel restrictions in China is sending shockwaves through Asia's tourism industry, which has become increasingly reliant on growing numbers of Chinese visitors.

At least 81 people have died since the new strain of coronavirus emerged in China's Wuhan, and millions are now under quarantine, with all flights in and out of the city grounded and a ban on Chinese travellers domestically and abroad.

Several countries have issued travel advisories against non-essential travel to China, as the region battle to keep the spread of the deadly virus under control. Other than leisure tourism, the travel advisories are expected to have a big impact on regional business events.

Already, the Philippines' Bureau of Immigration said it will temporarily stop issuing tourist visas on arrival to Chinese nationals to help ensure the country remained free of the new coronavirus.

"We are taking this proactive measure to slow down travel, and possibly help prevent the entry of the (virus)," Jaime Morente, the bureau's commissioner said in a statement.

Malaysia had also suspended issuing visas to Chinese citizens from Hubei province. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said it was not possible to quarantine all tourists from China on arrival, as there were too many.

Disney, McDonald's, Starbucks and other US companies with significant footprints in China are also suspending operations and instituting travel restrictions as they respond to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Experts say it can take between 10 months and 19 months for tourism and spending in an area to fully recover from a local outbreak.

The measures come amid a boom in Chinese foreign travel, with the number of tourists from the country increasing nearly tenfold since 2003, according to a report by research firm Capital Economics.

But businesses in destinations that rely on the huge numbers of Chinese tourists are already feeling the heat, with complaints of "deserted" beaches and shops, and concerns about the future.

The outbreak carries echoes of the SARs crisis, which paralysed regional travel and battered local economies from late 2002. Chinese tourist numbers then fell by around a third.