Coronavirus: How the illness may impact Chicago tourism, business

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Chicago may see fewer Chinese tourists this year because of the novel coronavirus, and that could impact businesses, including those up and down Michigan Avenue, according to a chamber of commerce president.

"The shops here, the luxury goods, those will be impacted," said Siva Yam, president of the U.S.-China Chamber of Commerce, which is based in downtown Chicago. "The major customers for those businesses are tourists from China."

Michigan Avenue is the shopping jewel of the city, a tourist hot spot. Yam predicts there will be fewer Chinese tourists this year, creating a financial impact for Chicago's tourist industry. The Magnificent Mile Association, an organization that represents dozens of dining, entertaining and retail establishments along the Mag Mile, is following news about novel coronavirus as well, especially when it comes to visitors.

"We hope that international tourism remains strong," said Adam Skaf, the Magnificent Mile Association's senior public relations manager. "We're definitely monitoring the situation in China. I think it's yet to be seen what the actual impact is."

While there are no hard numbers or data out yet, Skaf says international tourists generally spend twice as much while shopping. "It's definitely an important thing for our retailers. They look out for that international visitor, they cater to that international visitor, the Chinese included," he said.

In fact, fewer tourists may mean fewer flights as well. The International Air Transport Authority warns that airlines could lose $29 billion, reducing air traffic by 4.7%. And that marks the first overall decline in demand in more than a decade.

"Moving forward you are going to see a lot of impact," said Yam. He says Chicago area businesses that have items made in China are beginning to notice, too.

"We begin to feel it now," Yam said. "I think we are going to see a big hit around the summer."

The bridal industry is already feeling the big hit. Maddie Thorne is a bridesmaid in her friend's September wedding. She hustled to Complete Bridal in East Dundee after getting a call from the bride.

"She was very worried about getting all of her dresses," Thorne said after getting measured for her gown. "She said if I didn't put my order in today or yesterday, none of the bridesmaids dresses would be there on time."

David Gaffke owns the Complete Bridal store. So far, he said three brides who are customers will not get their wedding gowns on time, and 100% of the gowns at his store are made in China. Because of the novel coronavirus, factories are closed in parts of China, slowing the production of several products, including custom-made wedding gowns.

Gaffke says September and October are the hottest months for weddings in Illinois, and that means brides better start shopping as soon as possible. In Thorne's case, her friend's wedding is in September. The next shipment from China was supposed to leave in April, but the boat will not depart until June, meaning the dresses won't arrive in the Chicago area until August, just a month before the wedding.

"China is closed until April 1st. No orders, no dress cutting, no dress boxing, no dress shipping," said Gaffke. So what's his recommendation for brides? "I don't care where you go, just go somewhere and buy."
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