Travel industry feeling effects of coronavirus

Cancelled flights and fears around the novel coronavirus are causing problems for both travel agents and those who want to leave or return to the country at the epicentre of the viral outbreak.

Ottawa travel agent's business relies on Canada-China flights

Tingting Wang says most of her travel agency business deals with people flying to and from China. Business is suffering because of the coronavirus outbreak. (Radio-Canada)

Cancelled flights and fears of the novel coronavirus are causing problems for both travel agents and those who want to leave or return to China.

Multiple airlines have suspended flights to China in response to the outbreak.

"It is [a] huge disaster," said Tingting Wang, director of TTQ Travel in Ottawa.

Approximately 80 per cent of her business deals with customers flying between Canada and China.

She and the other employees have been working long hours, dealing with 20 to 30 calls a day from anxious customers who want to cancel to China or want to book trips in and out of China.

"I totally understand the people worry about the situation of coronavirus," she said, but feels the Chinese and Canadian governments are taking precautions to contain the virus.

International airports across Canada stepped up screening tools to detect the virus in passengers entering the country in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver. 

Four people in Canada have confirmed cases of the virus — three in Ontario and one in B.C. As of Sunday, the World Health Organization reported 14,411 confirmed cases worldwide, with 304 deaths in China and one in Philippines.

This map shows confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus around the world as of Feb. 2, 2020. (World Health Organization)

Flights cancelled

Air Canada joined other airlines by temporarily suspending direct flights to Beijing and Shanghai, China, between Jan. 30 and Feb. 29, 2020.

In a message on Air Canada's website, the airline said, "Affected customers will be notified and offered options, including travel on other carriers where available, or a full refund." 

Wang said trying to get through to Air Canada and other airlines has been problematic. 

"It feels like we're in the last century," she said. "We have to wait three to four hours, at least, to get through."

Wang also expects fears around the virus will continue during peak travel in the summer months.

'In limbo'

While many Canadians are trying to get out of China, David Klinck is one of those people trying to get into the country.

He and his wife Huang Yuan were visiting family in Gatineau, Que. He wants to return home to China where he's lived for 15 years and runs a language training school.

Klinck originally booked a flight between Montreal and Guangzhou, China last week, with a connecting flight in Beijing.

The connecting flight with Air China was later cancelled, which would have left him and his wife stranded more than 2,000 kilometres from home.

David Klinck is relying on hope and luck to get him back to Guangzhou, China where he's lived for the past 15 years. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

They're now hoping to get back home via Hong Kong, a more reasonable 130 km from home.

"Hopefully we can fly to Hong Kong and then kind of go in through the back door and try to find a way with a boat or with a bus to get back into [mainland] China. Hopefully that border will be open by the time we get there," he said.

Their new flight doesn't leave until Thursday but the situation is tense and could change rapidly, he said. Klinck's not certain that flight will still go forward.

"Right now we're kind of in limbo."

With files from Radio-Canada's Yasmine Mehdi