Canada's tourism industry 'deeply affected' by virus outbreak: minister

OTTAWA/TORONTO (Reuters) - The outbreak of the new coronavirus is hammering Canada’s tourism industry, a senior government official said on Friday, as the number of visitors from China plummeted and after the cancellation of a major technology convention.

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie Melanie Joly speaks to reporters as she arrives at a meeting with Liberal caucus members in Ottawa, Ontario Canada November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Patrick Doyle

Chinese tourists generate about C$2 billion annually in Canada, but their numbers have dwindled and revenue from their visits is expected to be down by C$550 million by June, Tourism Minister Melanie Joly told reporters in Montreal.

Sales at the duty free boutique in the Vancouver International Airport - a major thoroughfare for tourists visiting Canada from Asia - have already fallen by 50%, she said.

Earlier on Friday organizers of Collision, a major technology conference scheduled for June in Toronto and expected to draw around 30,000 attendees, said it would only be conducted by teleconference or online this year.

“The tourism industry is deeply affected,” Joly told reporters at a news conference after announcing a C$27 million investment in coronavirus research alongside Health Minister Patty Hajdu.

Last week, Canadian e-commerce company Shopify said it had canceled its annual conference in Toronto, as well as events in Mexico, Melbourne and Los Angeles, because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Meetings, conferences and events in Toronto, Canada’s most populous city, had been expected to generate an economic impact of C$882 million in 2020 with 410,000 delegates expected, according to Tourism Toronto data.

“As a destination that is deeply, globally connected like Toronto is ... it’s natural that we will feel some of the impact of these changes at a global level,” said Andrew Weir, an executive vice president with Tourism Toronto. “And that’s what we’re seeing.”

Asked Friday if the Canadian government could shut down big events, the health minister said those decisions were up to provincial governments.

Public health officials are planning on how to “protect communities from an influx of visitors that may create additional health stresses for communities that are struggling with health services,” Hajdu said.

There have been at least 45 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada, according to the federal government, but no virus-related deaths so far. [L1N2AZ0L9]

Reporting by Denise Paglinawan in Toronto and Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa, writing by Kelsey Johnson; editing by Steve Scherer and Tom Brown