Brian Kelly, chairman of the Online Regional Travel Group, parent company of St Brelade-based Bellingham Travel, said the situation was worse than he could recall in nearly 40 years in the industry.
And he warned that there could be other casualties in the sector after Flybe collapsed into administration on Wednesday. The airline had been struggling financially for years but blamed disruption caused by the coronavirus for its accelerated demise.
Elsewhere, Juliet Twena, a travel consultant who runs a franchise of the international firm Travel Counsellors, said calls have almost completely stopped, and compared the impact on the industry to that caused by the 2010 volcanic ash cloud.
And Fiona Kerley, managing director of the Ommaroo Hotel at Havre des Pas, has called on Islanders to support local tourism businesses by ‘eating at restaurants and arranging staycations’ amid uncertain times.
Mr Kelly said: ‘We’ve had a lot of storms with all different names coming across Britain in the past few months, but this is the perfect storm.’
He said that business in recent weeks had shrunk to around 30% of normal levels, adding that he believed this was a similar situation to the one being experienced by other parts of the travel sector.
‘We have been planning for this and are budgeting for levels to remain low until the end of June,’ he said. ‘Our group is in a strong position, but this sort of situation will expose weaknesses in the sector. Flybe was the first, but I think there will be other casualties as this bites hard into the tourism sector.’
While optimistic that much of the fallout from Flybe’s collapse could be dealt with within days, Mr Kelly said the coronavirus situation was likely to take much longer to recover from.
‘The industry had a difficult year last year with operators like Superbreak and Thomas Cook going out of business, as well as Brexit,’ he said. ‘Business had been good since the start of 2020, but now there’s a major effect.’
Mr Kelly said the Channel Islands should be more resilient than the Isle of Man, where his company is based and where more than half of all flights were operated by Flybe, and some of the Scottish islands.
Mrs Twena, who has been in the travel industry for 15 years, said inquiries about new bookings had all but dried up. At least 87 countries have confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including popular holiday spots such as northern Italy, Spain and Tenerife.
Mrs Twena added that two firms she deals with for corporate bookings had put a blanket ban on all overseas travel and many customers with existing holidays were changing their destination or delaying their trips for up to a year.
‘I have not seen anything like this since the ash cloud. With the Zika virus and Ebola we did not see much effect to be honest. With the ash cloud, people could just not go anywhere but we always knew it was going to come to an end soon. It’s harder to see an end to this. It’s unprecedented.’
Speaking about business at the Ommaroo, Ms Kerley said: ‘We have recruited really well for the new season and have gained work permits for staff who have signed contracts and booked tickets and arranged visas,’ she said.
‘We had a real focus on staff after having difficulties this year.
‘We will be trying to put ourselves in the best position by offering flexible deals that allow holidaymakers to cancel their trips if need be. But businesses need to have contingency plans. Our bank is being very supportive and we hope that would be the case for other Island businesses who need help.’