The travel industry is taking the biggest hit in two decades due to the COVID-19 outbreak, Tim Hentschel, CEO of HotelPlanner, told Cheddar.
"This is worse than 9/11," he said. "We knew that we were going to get through it at a certain time. The worst thing about this is that it's global, and there is no exit in sight."
The booking service, which specializes in negotiated group deals and corporate events, has seen travel drop 60 percent in Asia and 20 percent globally since the outbreak began.
The downturn stems from more than frightened would-be travelers holding off on their vacation plans. As the coronavirus has spread, governments have issued travel warnings and bans. Airlines have suspended flights to hard-hit areas, and major events have either been postponed or canceled.
Officials in Japan, for instance, have floated the idea of putting off the 2020 Olympics until later in the year. The Geneva Auto Show was canceled days before the doors were scheduled to open.
"Big events are getting shut down all the time right now," Hentschel said. "Anything that brings in over 100,000 people, governments are looking to shut it down to stop the spread of this virus."
These major cancellations can have a ripple effect on the rest of the industry, as big-ticket events attract visitors to other planned engagements as well.
"It's a knock-on effect," he added. "The big events are going to be canceled, and then every small event that's in conjunction with that big event will get canceled as well."
Hentschel is hoping the summer will lessen the impact of the coronavirus, similar to how the flu drops off with warmer weather, but he anticipates Q1 will be a disaster for the sector.
In the meantime, the executive is calling for backup from the government. He compared the situation to a government stepping up to regulate a dangerous chemical or fuel. While he understands the actions taken so far, he said compensation is in order for affected industries.
What would that look like? Maybe a family tax break for vacation costs, Hentschel said.
"They need to do something. They need to make the travel industry whole again. That's what governments should do," he said.