Sat, Dec 20, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Tourism industry frets over SARS news

By Amber Chung  /  STAFF REPORTER

The tourism industry is concerned about news of the first wintertime SARS case in Taiwan as it may overshadow the upcoming peak season of the Lunar New Year holidays.

"The appearance of the SARS case has indeed raised our customers' concern about their future travel plans and brought the industry anxiety about business during the Lunar New Year holidays," Roget Hsu (許高慶), secretary-general of the Travel Agents Association of the ROC (中華民國旅行公會) told the Taipei Times yesterday.

While no cancellation of group travel packages has been made so far, one travel agency said bookings for tours began to chill on Thursday, but recovered yesterday.

"Unlike the first outbreak earlier this year caused by a virus originating overseas, this is an isolated case and the impact on outbound tourism should be limited," said Vincent Lin (林承曄), a director at Lion Travel Service Co (雄獅旅行社).

But most travel agencies are more worried about the impact on inbound business than on outbound business, Lin said.

For instance, Japanese tourists used to account for more than one-third of the more than 2.5 million inbound visitors each year. But the number of Japanese tourists has dropped by more than 50 percent in the wake of the SARS outbreak in the second quarter, and it still has not recovered to the pre-SARS level.

"We worry that the SARS news may deter Japanese tourists from visiting Taiwan," Hsu said.

Unlike the tourism industry, airlines and retailers seemed at ease following the new SARS case.

"We did not sense any dramatic change in passenger traffic following the isolated SARS case," said Roger Han (韓梁中), spokesman for China Airlines Co (華航). "Our occupancy rates are around 75 to 78 percent so far."

China Airlines, the nation's largest air carrier, said Tuesday that it expects profit to fall by about half this year because the SARS outbreak cut travel demand.

As the carrier's passenger business dropped by 31.4 percent from a year ago, the company expects pre-tax profits of NT$1.6 billion this year, compared to pretax profits of NT$2.98 billion last year.

In contrast, rival EVA Airways Corp (長榮) raised its net profit forecast for the year to NT$1.15 billion from the NT$200.74 million projected in June, the company said in a statement to the Taiwan Stock Exchange yesterday, citing surging passenger loads after the SARS outbreak in March.

Retailers, including department stores and hypermarkets, are also not worried about the effect of SARS on their businesses.

"We did not see any decrease in customer numbers in the past two days," said Nancy Ting (丁立貞), public relations manager at Pacific Sogo Department Stores Group (太平洋崇光百貨).

However, to protect customers, Sogo has started conducting mandatory temperature checks of both employees and customers, and asked staff working in food services to wear masks.

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