Gloria Guevara Manzo, CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council, has some advice for would-be travelers who may be reconsidering their plans in light of the coronavirus outbreak: call your airlines and travel agencies for guidance, but don't overreact.
"Ninety percent of the economic impact in these types of crises is driven not by the virus but by panic," Guevara Manzo told Cheddar.
The stakes are high for one of the world's biggest industries: Travel makes up 10.4 percent of the global economy and employs 320 million people, according to research from the World Travel & Tourism Council.
Look no further than the last time China experienced an epidemic with the SARS outbreak in 2003. Along with the 8,000 people who were infected, it cost the global economy $40 billion, according to one analysis.
The effects of the coronavirus are just beginning to be felt, but past outbreaks can give us a sense of what to expect.
"Based on our research, what we can tell you is that it usually takes between 10-19 months to recover from an outbreak," Guevara Manzo said.
In the meantime, she said travelers should check with their airlines and travel agencies, which are getting real-time updates from the World Health Organization, but they should not cancel their flights or hotel reservations until they have done their due diligence.
Guevara Manzo noted that avoiding panic isn't just a matter of saving your travel plans. More broadly, overreacting to a crisis can also hurt the people suffering from the outbreak as well.
"Panic and rumors spread faster than the virus itself," she said.
She pointed to the more recent Ebola outbreak, in which the closure of airports and other access points to the outside world led to people not getting food or medical supplies.
"Unfortunately more people die from the impact of the reaction than from the virus itself, which means that people died because they didn't have access to food or they didn't have access to medication," she said.