Well into the second month of heightened awareness surrounding the coronavirus outbreak, it is now becoming apparent just how much damage the virus has caused––though perhaps less so in actual, physical manifestation and more so in psychological terror. Despite the fact that this disease is certainly something to be mindful of, most people around the globe are not in grave danger. This, however, has not stopped the widespread fear of the infamous “deadly virus” from affecting countless businesses, including heavy ramifications on certain segments of the restaurant industry.
The coronavirus––officially titled by the World Health Organization as COVID-19––first originated in Wuhan, China at the end of December 2019. It is a genetic cousin of the SARS virus, which threw the world into similar turmoil nearly two decades ago. However, the current climate of the hospitality industry suggests that the coronavirus of today may have more serious consequences than its 2003 counterpart.
In fact, at the time of the SARS outbreak, Chinese tourists only accounted for below two percent of New York City’s international visitors. Now, however, travelers from China are NYC’s second-largest group of foreign visitors (following those from Britain). The coronavirus outbreak has drastically reduced the number of Chinese tourists in NYC since the United States has banned travel from China by foreign nationals or anyone who has visited the country within 14 days. Though these travel restrictions are in place in light of what the U.S. has deemed a public health emergency, the loss of Chinese tourists in NYC has a significant economic impact on the city.
Local hotels and travel agencies are the first to feel the impact, with losses soaring into the hundreds of thousands of dollars in some instances. However, restaurants have also experienced a harsh decline in customers, particularly in New York City’s three main Chinatowns: Lower Manhattan, Flushing (Queens), and Sunset Park (Brooklyn). Loss of business is driven by both fear and logistics, the latter primarily due to the national travel ban. Many restaurants in these areas are frequented by international students who, after returning home for winter break, were not able to come back to the U.S. Similarly, Chinese tourists are prevented from visiting at this time as well. Prior to the government embargo, certain U.S.-operated airlines such as Delta, United, and American Airlines canceled all flights from China in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. However, this isolation has only further cemented the paranoia over the coronavirus.
This global panic is another major reason that the restaurant industry has been hit so forcefully by the coronavirus. Many people are now fearful of the restaurants they once loved, associating the virus in China with their local eateries despite the lack of direct contamination. This ignorance fuels the steep decline in business for many Chinese establishments in New York. Irrational fears combined with false rumors end up hurting the industry sometimes past the point of return––such as some Asian markets in Houston that lost nearly 80% of their clientele due to misinformation about the virus being found in the stores. It should be noted that the restaurant industry as a whole has not been greatly affected by the outbreak; the sudden decline in business is primarily isolated to Asian eateries.
Luckily, the majority of the United States is relatively safe from the illness thus far. Regardless, the global mentality of fear over the coronavirus has already caused significant damage to much of the hospitality industry. While we urge you to wash your hands, a lot, the coronavirus should certainly not stop anyone from doing what they normally do.