During a joint news conference held by several U.S. commercial and travel organizations to address concerns surrounding the coronavirus, leaders of those associations said domestic travel remains safe for both leisure and business travelers.
WASHINGTON—The collective message from five U.S. travel and commercial organizations to the general public is that domestic travel remains safe and there is no need to cancel trips or meetings.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce addressed ongoing concerns about the coronavirus (COVID-19) in a news conference Wednesday, which was broadcast online and held in conjunction with the U.S. Travel Association, American Hotel & Lodging Association, Airlines for America and the National Retail Foundation.
There is a continued concern about the global spread of the coronavirus and its impact on both public health and the economy, said Thomas Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. While these concerns are certainly understandable, the response has to be grounded in fact, not fear, he said.
“What we're telling our members—and that's critical— is the same advice we're following ourselves: Be prudent, be prepared, and don't overreact,” he said. “We should be guided by the facts and the advice from medical experts and the federal, state and local officials.”
There are currently no warnings about travel within the U.S., USTA President and CEO Roger Dow said. While U.S. government officials have cautioned international travel to certain high-risk areas should be done carefully, the risk of traveling within the U.S. is low, he said. Americans should react appropriately and avoid overreacting, he said.
“We’re urging the vast industry to share this message, and we're encouraging (the) traveling public to practice it,” he said. “Expert guidance tells us that for the majority of Americans, travel within the United States is safe and should go on unimpeded. The CDC is clearly saying that we should practice the best hygiene practices and take steps that we would all typically take during flu season. Doing so should help us continue with our events of our daily lives, whether we're traveling or whether we're at home.”
Spring is nearly here, and that brings with it spring breaks, family vacations and convention and trade shows, Dow said. With the proper health practices in place, there is no official guidance saying travel should be curtailed or canceled, he said.
The hotel industry has been living up to the cleanliness standards put forward by the CDC for a long time, AHLA President and CEO Chip Rogers said. The industry is going beyond those standards now, adding in additional cleanings in hotels, he said.
“Spring break is coming up,” he said. “Millions of Americans, students or families should not be putting off those plans out of fear. Yes, we all need to take precautions. We've begun taking those precautions. We've gone beyond what has been expected of us. But if you think about the challenges that we face, sometimes an overreaction to fear can be worse than not taking precautions at all.”
The travel association is seeing some cancellations of meetings and conferences, Dow said. The facts don’t support these decisions, he said. Cancelling trips and meetings hurt the people who need these jobs, such as housekeepers and restaurant servers, he said.
“It’s so important to the American economy that these trade shows and various meetings take place,” he said. “It’s critical to jobs.”
Rogers said most of the information about hotel reservation cancellations is anecdotal at this point. The numbers for cancellations aren’t available at the moment and the industry doesn’t have forward-looking information for this, he said. One thing to keep in mind for leisure travelers is they typically have a 24 to 48 hours to cancel reservations, he said.
“I would expect within the next week or so we’ll have much more solid numbers,” he said.
In response to a reporter’s question about workplace sick time policies, Donohue said there’s been progressive growth in the number of healthcare policies that provide sick leave. He added that this is likely the result of the extraordinary shortage of workers in the country right now. However, he doesn’t believe that many companies have been changing their policies on sick leave in response to coronavirus concerns at this point, he said.
“They’re going to respond with whatever it takes to keep the workforce stable,” he said. “They’re not going to lay as many people off as some people think they might for the fear that their major competitor will run out and hire a bunch of them. It is a real shortage of work.
Let’s see what happens over the next few weeks. I think you will find people acting in their own self-interest, and that will be beneficial to all.”
In the hospitality industry, these policies have always been in place, Rogers said. Similar to approaches during flu season, if someone doesn’t feel well, “every single hotel company in this country that I’m aware of has the same of similar policies to stay home,” he said.