Group forecasts travel to U.S. will fall 6% in next three months due to coronavirus

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - International travel to the United States will drop 6% over the next three months amid growing concerns about the coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. Travel Association forecast on Tuesday.

The predicted drop would be the largest decline in international inbound travel since the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the industry group said.

U.S. airlines have canceled all flights to and from China until late April and cut other flights to Asia and Europe. The Trump administration has barred nearly all non-U.S. citizens who have recently visited China or Iran from entering the United States. Numerous large gatherings that draw lots of international visitors have also been canceled.

The chief executives of major U.S. airlines, including United UAL.O, Southwest LUV.N and American Airlines AAL.O, are scheduled to meet with Vice President Mike Pence at the White House on Wednesday.

They were expected to discuss how the coronavirus is affecting their business outlooks as well as how they are dealing with travel restrictions, people briefed on the matter said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

American Airlines stock is down 40% since mid-February, and shares were down 2.8% on Tuesday. United Airlines shares, which fell 3.5% Tuesday, are down 28% since mid-February.

On Tuesday, United said it was waiving change fees for any bookings – both domestic and international – through March 31. Customers who cancel flights can retain the value to be applied to a new ticket without fee for travel up to 12 months from the original ticket issue date.

The stocks of major hotel and cruise line companies have also fallen sharply. Pence is scheduled to meet with cruise line executives in Florida on Saturday.

Marriott International Inc MAR.O and Hyatt Hotels Corp H.N are both offering to waive cancellation fees for residents of China and other countries with high numbers of coronavirus cases, as well for all people with hotel reservations in China and other countries with numerous coronavirus cases, through March 31.

In addition to China, airlines have been canceling other flights, including to and from other Asian destinations and Italy, and have been using smaller planes on some routes.

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he could take additional action regarding travel to virus “hot spots” but gave no details.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall