Thu, May 15, 2008 - Page 12 News List

Quake, closures hurt tourism

LOSSESWith the disaster in China’s Sichuan Province and the recent airline closures, agents hoped to convince ticket holders to change their trips rather than cancel them

By Joyce Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Local travel agencies may face up to NT$1.2 billion (US$387 million) in losses in the coming year from the cancelation of trips to earthquake-hit Jiuzhaigou (九寨溝) in China’s Sichuan Province, although the disaster’s full impact on the industry remains to be seen, travel agencies said yesterday.

They are also persuading their clients to reschedule destinations while facing mounting losses from canceled trips following the closure of debt-ridden Far Eastern Air Transport Corp (FAT, 遠東航空) and Cambodia-based Angkor Airways Corp (吳哥航空).

“Losses will depend on how fast Sichuan can reopen itself to tourists. But, on average, 400,000 Taiwanese visit Jiuzhaigou each year,” said Roget Hsu (�?y), secretary-general of the Travel Agent Association of Taiwan (旅行公會全國聯合會), in a telephone interview yesterday.

Since group trips to Jiuzhaigou are usually priced at NT$10,000 to NT$30,000, annual losses from 400,000 visits there may amount to between NT$400 million and NT$1.2 billion, he said.

Every year about 4 million Taiwanese visit China for either business or tourism, the latest government statistics show.

“It’s hard to estimate now, but we try to contain losses by offering incentives to clients who are willing to continue their canceled trips elsewhere,” said Vincent Lin (林承瞱), a director at the Taipei-based Lion Travel Service Co (雄師旅行社), whose business has suffered from the earthquake and both airliners’ closure.

By the end of the month, Lion Travel will have canceled 20 group trips for 500 Sichuan-bound tourists. The company, on average, arranges China trips for some 100,000 domestic clients annually, some of whom have recently expressed hesitation to visit any Chinese destinations in the near future.

Annually, Lion Travel arranges group trips for some 20,000 tourists to South Korea’s Jeju Island from Taipei — an exclusive route that FAT used to fly — for a price of between NT$5,000 and NT$15,000 per head. It also arranges trips for 12,000 tourists annually to Angkor Wat — an exclusive route for Angkor Airways — at prices of between NT$10,000 and NT$20,000 per head.

Lion Travel is among eight domestic travel agencies that brought a lawsuit against Angkor Airways to seek refunds for cash paid for advance booking.

“The impact on our businesses will be limited if we succeed in talking clients into joining other tours,” Lin said, adding that the company has taken the precautionary action against Angkor Airways to insure part of its payments.

Yao Ta-kuang (姚大光), the travel agent association’s chairman, said yesterday the closures and the disaster in Sichuan would have a limited impact on the industry if alternative destinations could be arranged.

“There are many available destinations to choose from,” he said, refusing to tally a potential loss.

Yao said, however, that local tourists may find it difficult to visit Angkor Wat, Jeju Island and Beluu er a Belau in the Pacific region because of the closures.

On average, 50,000 Taiwanese visit Angkor Wat annually and up to 120,000 people visit Jeju Island, while 20,000 people visit Beluu er a Belau per year, the association’s data showed.

Even so, Yao expressed an upbeat view toward the local tourism sector’s prospects for both inbound and outbound business.

The predicted thawing of cross-strait relations after the new government takes office next week, he said. That would bring more good news for most domestic travel agencies.

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