The Chinese coronavirus outbreak could have a damaging and lasting economic impact on the global travel and tourism sector.

And lessons must learned from previous viral epidemics, the World Travel & Tourism Council warned.

President and chief executive Gloria Guevara was the former Mexican tourism minister closely involved with the aftermath of the Mexican outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus in 2009 which led to thousands of deaths.

Analysis of previous major viral epidemics by WTTC experts shows that the average recovery time for visitor numbers to a destination was 19 months, but with the right response and management could recover in as little as ten months.

The worldwide economic impact of H1N1 was estimated at up to $55 billion, with the loss to the Mexican tourism industry valued at $5 billion.

A similar economic impact affected China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Canada after the 2003 SARS outbreak, damaging the global travel and tourism sector by between $30 and $50 billion.

China alone suffered a 25% reduction of tourism GDP and a loss of 2.8 million jobs.

Guevara, speaking as the death toll from conoravirsu rose to 26, said: “While the risk of exposure for travellers and tourists is still low, we are naturally concerned about those who have been affected already.

“Experience has taught us that global co-ordination and co-operation, with collaboration between the public and private sector, is going to be vital in containing the spread of the coronavirus throughout China and beyond.

“We analyse many global crises within WTTC and previous cases have shown us that the economic losses from health epidemics are avoidable, through the effective use of crisis preparedness and management procedures, as well as through managing public panic and making rational decisions through travel.”

And she warned: “Previous cases have also shown us that closing airports, cancelling flights and closing borders often has a greater economic impact than the outbreak itself.

“The most effective management of a crisis requires rapid activation of effective emergency plans, and we can see that in the early days of this outbreak, the Chinese government has acted rapidly.

“However, quick, accurate and transparent communication is also crucial in order to contain panic and mitigate negative economic losses. Containing the spread of unnecessary panic is as important as stopping the virus itself.”