By Halah Touryalai
Sixteen years after the SARS virus infected over 8,000 people and killed 77, the coronavirus is now sparking fears across the globe with no vaccine in sight.
The coronavirus is likely to have a bigger economic impact than previous outbreaks thanks to a rapidly growing Chinese economy and its deeper commercial ties to the U.S. In 2003, when the SARS virus hit, China’s GDP was $1.6 trillion. Today, China’s GDP sits around $13 trillion.
Over that period, China has been a growth hub for U.S. companies looking for ways to boost their bottom lines. Now those companies are on the front lines of a growing health pandemic that’s infected nearly 10,000 people and killed at least 213. Some U.S businesses, like gaming giant Las Vegas Sands, (which is seeing an 80 percent drop in visitors at its Macau locations amid the outbreak) had no operations when SARS hit in 2003. Earlier this week, billionaire chairman of Las Vegas Sands, Sheldon Adelson, noted that all employees in the region are wearing masks, and visitors are being screened for increased temperature which could indicate possible infection.
How much it will cost the casino giant will be more clear in the second quarter
“I think it would be foolhardy to think we can reduce costs enough to offset [a continuing 80 percent decline. That’s a real problem for any operator,” president and COO of Las Vegas Sands, Rob Goldstein, told analysts.
China is exporting more goods than ever before. In 2018, China was the United States’ largest supplier of goods including electrical machinery ($152 billion), machinery ($117 billion), furniture and bedding ($35 billion), toys and sports equipment ($27 billion), and plastics ($19 billion).
The number of Chinese billionaires is growing. Jack Ma, who recently resigned as chairman of the e-commerce giant he co-founded, Alibaba, is the nation’s richest with a net worth of $42 billion.
Travel has become a key indicator of quality of life for the China’s rising affluent population with more and more Chinese traveling overseas for their vacations, according to Nielsen. Chinese tourists spent an average of $762 per person towards shopping on their most recent overseas trip, while non-Chinese tourists averaged USD 486, according to a 2017 Nielsen survey.
Starbucks announced its closed more than half of its 4,100 stores in mainland China amid coronavirus fears. It’s not the only retailer closing stores: H&M closed at least 45 locations and suspended business travel to and from China for its employees. IKEA shut half of its 30 stores in mainland China. Coca-Cola plants have also been affected.
China is Marriott’s biggest market outside of the U.S. In 2018, the company partnered with Alibaba. The agreement allows Chinese travelers to book Marriott hotels through Alibaba’s travel website.
Earlier this week Marriott said it was waiving cancellation fees for hotel stays through February 29, 2020 for guests with reservations at hotels in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. The waiver is also available for guests from mainland China, Hong Kong SAR, Macau and Taiwan traveling outbound to other Marriott destinations globally.
Visitors to Las Vegas Sands properties in Macau are down 80 percent during a typically busy Lunar New Year season as the coronavirus hits the region. “The current situation is unique and serious,” billionaire Sheldon Adelson told analysts this week. “Our top priority is the health and safety of our employees and guests, and we are doing everything we can to support the government both of Macao and China,” the Las Vegas Sands chairman and CEO added.