Fri, Mar 08, 2002 - Page 17 News List

Tourists want to stay near home

TRAVEL INDUSTRY Following the Sept. 11 attacks on the US, local travel agencies noticed that customers had lost interest in going to cities in Europe and America

By Annabel Lue  /  STAFF REPORTER

A couple enjoy the scenery on Japan's Hokkaido Island last spring. Last year 741,767 Taiwanese tourists visited the prefecture, the capital of which is Sapporo. In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks in the US, travelers are more interested in visiting destinations in the region, a local travel association says.

PHOTO: CHOU HSIN-REI, TAIPEI TIMES

With some Taiwanese still feeling uneasy boarding long-haul flights after the Sept. 11 attacks in the US, travel agencies are focusing on destinations closer to home this year, one industry professional said yesterday.

"Since late last year, an increasing number of travelers are choosing to visit Asia-Pacific countries such as South Korea, Japan and China instead of the US, Europe or Australia," said Teng Ming-chang (鄧明昌), executive manager of the Taipei Travel Agency Association.

Along with safety concerns, tight consumer budgets were also a factor influencing the trend, he said.

"Public demand for travel is still there but they are more sensitive about price and safety," Teng said.

Group travel to the US did see a temporary jump in February during the Lunar New Year holiday, association statistics showed.

"It will be difficult for the US tour-group business to rebound to a satisfactory level in the short term," Teng said.

Another market veteran said that travel agencies have to diversify their products for survival.

"Companies should try to diversify their services and not put all their eggs in one basket," said Ernest Chi (齊彥明), general manager of Everlight Travel Service Co Ltd (洋洋旅行社).

Everlight has specialized in US-bound travel for more than 20 years and handled more than 40,000 outbound tourists last year, of which about 30 percent were tour groups bound for the US.

Chi said the fall-winter season has been the "coldest" he has ever seen.

"It really hurt us a lot. Our revenue has dropped tremendously."

The weak bottom line has forced Everlight to place its focus on regional travel.

"For a decade, about 70 percent of our sales came from group tours destined for the US, Canada, Europe and Australia, while only 30 percent came from the Asia-Pacific region," said David Wei (魏德華), Everlight's executive manager. "This year, we plan to put more effort into upgrading packages for Japan, China and India," Wei said.

The focus on Japan has come at a good time.

Back in mid-February, EVA Airways Corp (長榮) signed an agreement to operate 21 flights a week between Taipei and Tokyo, up from a two per week, while China Airlines Co (華航) will increase flights on the route by one, bringing its total flights to Japan to 22 per week.

China Airlines is also planning to start operating direct flights between Taipei and Delhi on April 1. Wei said his company will offer India-bound tour groups later this year.

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