Exhibitors Drop Mobile World Congress Over Coronavirus; Travel Impacts Continue

The coronavirus is continuing to have an impact on the meetings and events industry, causing exhibitors to pull out of a major technology event, shuttering venues in Wuhan, China, and disrupting travel. 

A number of high-profile exhibitors have pulled out of Mobile World Congress over fears of the virus, which is scheduled to take place in Barcelona, Spain, from February 24 – 27, CNN reports. Companies that have announced their withdrawal include Amazon, Ericsson, Facebook, Sony, Intel, Cisco and LG, with spokespeople for both Facebook and Amazon citing the outbreak and public health concerns as factors in their decision. 

Update: Late Wednesday the event's organizers announced that they will cancel this year's conference. 

“With due regard to the safe and healthy environment in Barcelona and the host country today, the GSMA has cancelled MWC Barcelona 2020 because the global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event,” GSMA said in a written statement. “The Host City Parties respect and understand this decision.”

The event, which had originally been scheduled to run from February 24 – 27, draws approximately 100,000 attendees annually, and is often used by mobile phone manufacturers to unveil their new products. The GSMA said that it will continue to work with city officials for MWC Barcelona 2021 and future editions of the event. 

“Our sympathies at this time are with those affected in China, and all around the world,” GSMA said. 

In Wuhan, where the outbreak originated, the Wuhan International Convention and Exhibition Center and the China Optics Valley Convention & Exhibition Center have been turned into temporary hospitals, according to the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA)

“On behalf of the ICCA Board of Directors and members worldwide, we would like to express our solidarity and support of the global meetings industry community with you, your staff and families in China affected by this outbreak,” the ICCA Board of Directors said in a written statement. 

Travel Updates

The outbreak, meanwhile, is continuing to cause both air and cruise travel disruptions. 

American Airlines has announced it will extend its suspension of flights to and from mainland China and Hong Kong from its Dallas – Fort Worth and Los Angeles hubs, citing a reduction in demand. 

  • Flights between DFW/LAX and the mainland China are suspended through April 24.
  • Flights between DFW and Hong Kong (HKG) are suspended through April 23.
  • Flights between LAX and HKG are suspended through April 24.

Delta has suspended all flights to China through April 30, while United Airlines has suspended its flights through March 28. All three airlines are offering refunds to customers on cancelled flights. 

In terms of cruise travel, Holland America Line reports that the Westerdam is now sailing for Sihanoukville, Cambodia, where the current cruise will end. The ship is scheduled to arrive at 7 a.m. local time on Thursday, February 13, after which the line says it will remain in port for “several days” for disembarkation. Guests will be able to go ashore. 

All guests onboard are healthy, Holland America said, and there are no known or suspected cases of coronavirus onboard. 

“All approvals have been received and we are extremely grateful to the Cambodian authorities for their support,” the cruise line said in a written statement. 

Guests will disembark in Sihanoukville over the next few days and transfer via charter flights to Phnom Penh for forward travel home, Holland America said. The cruise line will arrange and pay for all flights home, in addition to a full cruise refund and 100 percent future cruise credit.

Future voyage plans are still being finalized; the February 15 cruise that had been scheduled to embark in Yokohama, Japan, has been cancelled, and the line is assessing the impact of current port restrictions in Asia on cruises departing February 29 or later. 

The Westerdam was on a 14-day cruise that departed Hong Kong February 1. The cruise line attempted to shift the sailing’s disembarkation port from Shanghai to Yokohama, and later to Laem Chabang (Bangkok), Thailand, only to be barred by public health authorities in the two ports. 

Princess Cruises, meanwhile, has confirmed that there have been 39 new cases of the coronavirus onboard the Diamond Princess, which is currently under quarantine in Yokohama until February 19. 

"We are following guidance from the Japan Ministry of Health on plans for disembarkation protocols to provide medical care for these new cases,” the cruise line said in a written statement. “Additional information will be shared as soon as it is made available to use by the Ministry of Health.”

The cruise line has been working to provide quarantined guests with complimentary Internet and phone access, as well as additional entertainment options, over the course of the quarantine. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially named this coronavirus COVID-19. In its latest update, the organization said that there have been no new cases reported within the past 24 hours. There are currently over 43,100 cases worldwide in 25 countries. There have been 1,018 deaths from the disease thus far, all but one in China. 

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