Virus Outbreak Prompts Chinese Travel Firms to Offer Free Cancellations

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) -
Boeing 737
A Boeing 737 operated by Shanghai Airlines is parked at the Hongqiao airport in Shanghai, China, as concerns of a viral outbreak have slowed down travel in what is usually a peak season. (AP Photo)

Chinese travel booking platforms from Trip.com to Alibaba Group’s Fliggy said on Tuesday they would offer free cancellations on bookings made for Wuhan amid mounting fears over a viral outbreak in the central Chinese city.

The companies, which also include Meituan Dianping and Qunar.com, said in separate but similar statements that the policy would be extended to users who had been put under quarantined or diagnosed with the new coronavirus.

As of Tuesday, nearly 300 people had been diagnosed globally, with all but a handful in China, and most of them in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people. This has sent jitters among travelers as hundreds of millions of Chinese are prepared to travel for a national holiday this week.

The holiday is traditionally a high season for tourism and retail industries in China and overseas, but confirmation from health authorities that the virus spreads through human contact and calls for heightened vigilance is prompting concerns that many will opt to stay home during the week-long holiday.

The travel booking platforms said that Chinese civil aviation and railway authorities had not yet set a special cancellation policy, but that they would try to meet the needs of customers wanting to cancel their trips.

Shares in hotel operators, airliners and restaurant operators have plunged in recent days on concerns that these jitters will spread more widely. Analysts say they expect online shopping platforms and delivery firms to benefit should more people stay at home.

At least nine Chinese airlines have issued policies allowing travelers that had been quarantined or diagnosed with the virus to reschedule or cancel their flights for free, the Beijing Daily reported.