Asian airlines and hotels are offering bargains to lure back travellers during the summer holidays, but industry players say the biggest obstacle is whether people have overcome their fear of SARS.
Beyond the allure of airline tickets, five-star hotels and pristine beaches at dirt-cheap prices, much depends on whether people feel safe from catching the SARS virus aboard flights or in the places they are visiting, they said.
"What we are combating is fear and misconceptions, not a runaway epidemic," said China Airlines chief executive Philip Wei (
For example, news that a SARS-infected physician from Taiwan recently travelled to Japan triggered massive hotel cancellations from domestic travellers.
Japanese hoteliers are wary about accepting tourists from SARS-hit areas, said Hitoshi Kamimura, a planning official with the Japan National Tourist Organization.
Japanese tourism officials are in a quandary over a strategy for the summer season, as 30 percent of tourist arrivals come from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong -- the regions hardest hit by the SARS outbreak.
"They are praying for the disease to be contained soon, definitely before July, which is usually the peak month for Asian tourists to visit Japan," Kamimura said.
Airline representatives have called on the World Health Organization (WHO) to send a strong message that proper measures have been taken and there is little risk of getting infected with SARS aboard a flight or at the airport.
The message must also be relayed that SARS has been contained in some countries and they have been removed from the WHO travel advisory list, they said.
"We must cut through the hysteria so that travellers can make informed decisions based on facts," said Giovanni Bisignani, director-general of the International Air Transport Association.
John Koldowski, a managing director at the Pacific Asia Travel Association, said the impact of the promotions "will be significant in giving confidence in the minds of travellers, but it is a drag on the industry because it will affect yields."
"Nonetheless, we need people to come and look and say `Hey we went there, we are well, we did not get sick.' It's the best form of advertising," he said.
Thai Airways is offering buy-one, get-one free tickets on business and first class return tickets to key destinations worldwide, and will sell cut-price fares at a four-day exhibition in Bangkok next month.
Thailand's major hotels are slashing prices by up to 75 percent in an attempt to lure tourists back, a move replicated in many parts of Asia where tourism is a substantial money-spinner.
Vietnam Airlines has reduced ticket costs by as much as 75 percent and hotels have dropped prices by as much as 80 percent.
The National Association of Travel Agents-Singapore launched a major campaign to encourage Singaporeans to travel to non-SARS affected countries.
Singapore Airlines has also cut prices and local hotels have gone beyond slashing costs to disinfecting rooms and checking staff daily for fever in order to be certified as free from the disease.