Another Possible Coronavirus Victim: LA Travel Agencies That Serve Asian Communities

Business has been so slow that Elite 5 Star Travel agency owners Ray Mak (left, holding his son Ryan) and Anthony Ng (right, holding his son Matthew) have been bringing their kids to work. (Robert Garrova/LAist)

While the coronavirus outbreak is wreaking havoc in parts of China, it's also stirred up trouble in the Los Angeles area. For some businesses, it's posing what could become an existential threat.

Local travel agencies that cater to the Chinese community are seeing so many cancellations right now that some are afraid of being driven out of business.

It certainly isn't helping that the U.S. State Department is telling travelers not to go to China, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending Americans avoid all non-essential travel there.

The outbreak could hit mom-and-pop travel agencies especially hard, said Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst with Atmosphere Research Group.

'SOME MAY OPT TO CLOSE'

"If all they specialize in is travel to and from China and they have very limited financial reserves, it's possible some may opt to close," he said.

The coronavirus situation is unprecedented, said Harteveldt, who has decades of experience studying the travel industry. "This is the first time that I can recall seeing either countries or individual airlines announce suspension of all flights to a specific country specifically because of a health matter," he said.

Thousands of travelers are being forced to rethink their plans right now. That includes John DiScala, who's been planning a trip to Southeast Asia for months.

"I'm going to cancel the trip because I have two little kids at home," he told us.

An L.A.-based travel writer, DiScala recently wrote a piece on his blog asking readers whether he should cancel his Asia travel plans.

"I would say 98% of the people said, 'Do not go,'" DiScala said. "So that was like, 'Ok, I'm staying home, I'm not even going to take a chance.'"

'CANCEL, CANCEL, CANCEL'

Monterey Park travel agent Anthony Ng said this is the worst catastrophe he's had to weather in the 11 years he's been in business.

"We had multiple cancellations, multiple refunds," he said. "Even trips out to summer are all cancelled right now."

Fifty of Ng's clients cancelled trips in January alone, he said.

Ng's company, Elite 5 Star Travel, is in a strip mall above a supermarket that caters to the area's large Asian American population. He understands the fears surrounding coronavirus. Ng keeps a face mask on his desk, mostly to reassure customers.

"I felt weird going to the post office the other day not wearing a mask," he said.

Less than a mile from Elite 5 Star Travel is Sky and Sea Travel, where agent Cindy Lu is facing the same problem.

"Cancel, cancel, cancel," Lu said as she read through a list of clients.

Even clients who have travel plans to areas of Asia outside of China are cancelling, she said.

Ng is hoping his business can survive, but added, "the difficult thing is, it's going to go on. It's not going to just [be fixed] overnight or in a month it's going to be taken care of."

He and his partner are "crossing our fingers, we're praying we can make it throughout the year," Ng said.

He worries his business will continue to suffer even after the coronavirus outbreak is contained, since it may take some time for people to get over their fear of traveling to Asia.