Tue, Nov 25, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Dysentery outbreak sparks cancellations of trips to Indonesia

By Amber Chung  /  STAFF REPORTER

After a dysentery outbreak among Taiwanese tourists returning from Bali, several travel groups cancelled trips to the Indonesian resort island yesterday.

News of the outbreak may hurt travel agencies offering trips to Bali during the Lunar New Year high season, travel industry officials said.

"About 100 tourists have informed us that they want to cancel their trips to Bali or have their itinerary changed," Paul Fang (房德揚), general manager of Island World Travel Service (世宇), told the Taipei Times yesterday.

Vincent Lin (林承曄), director of Lion Travel Service Co (雄獅), said his company has also received about 10 calls to change their destination to Phuket. "Nevertheless, we cannot estimate, for the time being, whether the number of cancellations will rise," Lin said.

The Center for Disease Control -- citing figures from Island World and Lion Travel, along with Comfort Travel Service Co (康福) and Signet Travel Service Co (新台) -- said on Sunday that 25 tourists had caught dysentery, an intestinal infection. According to a Central News Agency report yesterday, that figure has increased to 35.

Travel agencies said they have taken measures to prevent travelers from contracting the disease, including providing bottled water and asking restaurants to show their health certificates as proof of good hygiene.

"We have also excluded the suspected restaurants from our program and changed to other restaurants to reassure our customers. Our agency will bear the costs generated due to the changes," Fang said.

Bali is the most popular destination in Southeast Asia for Taiwanese holidaymakers, attracting up to 250,000 people per year.

The outbreak of SARS earlier this year inflicted heavy damage on the travel industry, with the number of Taiwan's outbound travelers dropping 80 percent.

The industry fears the dysentery incident may bring about another wave of losses on the recovering business.

"If the dysentery situation does not improve, we are worried that the industry may see a decrease of 20 percent to 30 percent in the number of people traveling to Bali during the Chinese New Year," Fang said.

Roget Hsu (許高慶), secretary-general of Travel Agents Association of the ROC (中華民國旅行公會), which represents some 2,500 travel agencies, said prices may not rise as much as usual during the Lunar New Year if the impact of the outbreak persists.

"In terms of consumer protection, the association will ask travel agencies to bear the medical expenses for customers who get infected because of group activities," Hsu added.

Tourists in Bali have to watch out since the source of infection has not been confirmed, said Chen I-chuan (陳怡全), secretary-general of Travel Quality Assurance Association (旅遊品保協會).

"We can only remind travelers to avoid rare food, to wash their hands more often and to drink bottled water," Chen said. "Since the government has not issued travel advice on Bali, consumers who want to cancel their trips will need to bear the losses themselves."

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