The deadly coronavirus epidemic will cost world tourism at least US$22 billion owing to a drop in spending by Chinese tourists, the head of the World Travel and Tourism Council had said.

The COVID-19 epidemic has killed over 3,000 people, mostly in China – where it first emerged in December – and infected more than 90,000 in over 45 countries.

“It is too soon to know but the WTTC has made a preliminary calculation in collaboration with (a research firm) Oxford Economics which estimates that the crisis will cost the sector at least $22 billion,” Gloria Guevara told El Mundo daily.

“This calculation is based on the experience of previous crises, such as SARS or H1N1, and is based on losses deriving from Chinese tourists who have not been travelling in recent weeks,” she said.

“The Chinese are the tourists who spend most when they travel.”

The loss figure, which equates to about €20.2 billion, is the most optimistic scenario envisaged by the study which was published on February 11 by Oxford Economics, taking the hypothesis of a 7.0% drop in overseas trips by Chinese nationals.

But the losses could more than double, reaching as much as $49 billion if the crisis lasts as long as the SARS outbreak, which erupted in November 2002 and was brought under control in July 2003.

Five African countries have so far recorded the coronavirus.

They include Senegal, Egypt and Nigeria.