A spreading virus is keeping Chinese travelers at home, leading to hundreds of cancellations during the peak of Alaska’s winter tourism season.

About 500 travelers canceled February itineraries with a travel agency that caters solely to Chinese tourists, The Anchorage Daily News reported Tuesday.

Hotels, dog mushing businesses and aurora borealis tour operators also reported losing business because of the illness known as COVID-19 that emerged last year in central China.

Alaska had no recorded cases of the virus as of mid-February.

Chinese tourists make up a fast-growing group of travelers to Alaska. Chinese visitors to the state since 2013 increased more than 70%, according to the Alaska Travel Industry Association.

The outbreak “happened at the worst time it could possibly have happened,” said Jin Chen of Alaska Skylar Travel, which maintains offices in Anchorage and Beijing.

Advertising

The virus hit as the Lunar New Year was about to begin, a popular time for Chinese families to travel abroad and a prime month for aurora viewing in Alaska, Chen said.

Skylar Travel’s Beijing office has been closed since January while government travel restrictions, mass quarantines and airline flight suspensions have curtailed regular travel between China and the United States.

Alaska hotel operators and tour guides reported cancellations linked to virus restrictions or fears of the illness.

The Alaska Railroad experienced about 100 cancellations from groups in early February, a spokesman said.

Aurora tourism in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, saw a similar downturn, with idling businesses laying off guides.

Tour groups canceled reservations at Chena Hot Springs Resort near Fairbanks, Marketing Director Javier Villasenor-Gaona said.

The resort remains fully booked, but other visitors canceled because of a perception the hot springs “attracts too many guests from China,” Villasenor-Gaona said.

“A lot of it is misinformation and panic regarding our destination, and we are afraid that most of it may be xenophobia,” he said.