Fri, May 23, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Airport businesses in a tight spot

WAITING GAME The chairman of a business advocacy group at CKS International Airport says that companies have no choice but to tough out SARS and wait for relief

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER

A waitress at Chiang Kai-shek International Airport tries to keep busy dusting tables at the Asia Pacific Restaurant yesterday. Airport traffic is down as much as 80 percent in the wake of the SARS crisis, and the short-term outlook does not look bright.

PHOTO: TONY YAO, TAIPEI TIMES

Chiang Kai-shek International Airport businesses are stuck in a Catch-22: Keep stores and restaurants open and lose tens of thousands of dollars per day at the nearly empty facility, or close up shop and lose the right to sell for three years.

"We are not allowed to close businesses or lay off employees, despite our sales having hit rock bottom," Chan Cheng-chi (詹成吉), chairman of a business advocacy association for stores at CKS International Airport, told the Taipei Times yesterday.

On Monday, airport traffic hit a new low of a total of 5,675 arrivals and departures. That compares with 54,883 on the same day last year.

The few people that do come to the airport aren't buying, but instead "rush in and out due to SARS fears," Chan said.

The government-run facility requires all businesses in the airport to sign multi-year deals and fork out large deposits to guarantee they will meet their contractual obligations.

Chan, also owner of a Terminal 1 flower shop called Surpassing Landscaping Corp (超藝造園), said he knew firsthand how much airport businesses are hurting.

"Business at my flower shop has fallen by 60 percent [last month], and is expected to dive by 70 percent [this month]," Chan said.

Last month, the association made an appeal to the legislature to cut rental fees to help them weather the storm. The government responded by offering rent reductions based on passenger traffic.

With that number below 40 percent, many stores are operating rent-free.

"But that didn't help a lot, because aside from the loss of business, we still need to pay staff salaries, utilities and maintenance fees," Chan said.

Lee's Restaurant (悅揚樓), the 130-seat Chinese restaurant located in the departure lobby of the airport's Terminal 1, has seen revenues fall by 90 percent this month.

"At this time of year, customers are usually jam-packed in the restaurant for at least three rounds during meal times," Ashley Chen (陳祥頤), manager of Lee's said yesterday.

"In addition to a loss from reduced passenger numbers, customers who see their friends or relatives off at the airport are also not coming in," Chen said.

Business at the huge second- floor duty-free store is also spotty. Sales of tax-free cigarettes, alcohol, cosmetics and souvenir items is down 80 percent, Lin Sheng-ying (林昇穎), associate manager of Ever Green Duty Free Shop Corp (申恆昌股份有限公司) said yesterday.

"We can only sit by and wish SARS is gone as soon as possible," said Lin.

The only real sales the company is doing are to other airport staff pulled in by steep discounts, Lin said.

The overall sentiment at the airport is that things are only going to get worse.

"Everyone here is desperate and waiting to see if they can survive SARS, but I believe some small stores will shut down if the epidemic drags on for two more months," Chan said.

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