A Taipei hotel and an airline joined forces yesterday to bypass travel agencies and offer cut-rate tour packages in a bid to counter the massive drop-off in visitors because of the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
"We have no control over the development of SARS but we can determine what to do to help ourselves," said Steven Pan (潘思亮), president of the Grand Formosa Regent Hotel (晶華酒店), after announcing the special offers.
The unique collaboration will allow people who fly Far Eastern Air Transport Corp (遠東航空) to Taipei from either Kaohsiung or Tainan to enjoy a one-night stay at the five-star Taipei hotel, with free breakfast.
The tickets are priced at NT$3,980 for the Kaohsiung-Taipei route and NT$3,560 for the Tainan-Taipei route.
For people who are already in Taipei, a one-night's stay at the Grand Formosa Regent will entitle them to a free a round-trip air ticket to either Kaohsiung or Tainan.
The special offer runs through June 30. But there are restrictions. The special packages are available only to ROC citizens or foreigners holding alien resident certificates and are based on travel/hotel accommodations for two people.
"With our special packages, we hope to attract 20,000 tourists over the next two months," Pan said.
However, one industry veteran told the Taipei Times yesterday that the special offer may violate the Fair Trade Law (公平交易法).
"Under the Fair Trade Law, neither airlines nor hotels can sell tour packages [directly] to tourists," said Roget Hsu (許高慶), secretary-general of the Travel Agent Association (中華民國旅行公會).
"Only travel agencies can sell such packages," he said.
Despite the legal concerns, Hsu said the plan might help boost the sector as, "Cheaper products can always develop the market."
The airline and hotel industries have bore the brunt of the SARS outbreak, Pan said. But the latest blow, and the most detrimental, was last week's closure of Taipei Municipal Ho Ping Hospital, because it signaled the situation here was worsening, he said.
The Tourism Bureau reported visitor arrivals plunged 59 percent during the first 10 days last month versus a year ago due to SARS, with hotels in Taipei reporting about 40 occupancy rates last month compared to 70 percent last year.
"With the SARS fears, our occupancy rate recently dropped to around 40 percent from some 80 percent in the same period last year," said Nina Fu (傅蔚), Grand Formosa's executive assistant manager for room services.
Steve Tsui (崔湧), the chairman of financially-troubled Far Eastern Air -- which in March began to cut about 120 jobs and implement other restructuring plans -- said yesterday that SARS would become the worst crisis the carrier has ever faced.
But the airline hopes to stay afloat by promoting domestic tours and plans to increase flights from two to four per week to Palau.
"Despite SARS fears, people still want to travel and are willing to do so if they are assured their trips are safe," Tsui said.
Meanwhile, the crisis of fear triggered by SARS that has sharply curtailed travel lead to the shutdown of a mid-sized hotel in downtown Taipei yesterday.
Kirin Hotel's (麒麟飯店) occupancy rate dropped to 30 percent last month and there were no bookings at all for this month, said Huang Tse-yang (黃則揚), the hotel's president.