If there were any scars left by the SARS epidemic, it was nowhere to be seen during a fair held by the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to boost tourism yesterday.
Thousands of people braved the searing heat to shop for travel packages offered by the "Easy Go! Taiwan Touches Your Heart" fair held in front of the Presidential Building.
With more than 100 stalls set up by travel agencies, airlines, bus and shipping companies, resort managers and the government's tourism units, the fair was a government effort to revitalize the SARS-hit economy.
"I want to remind our people that the lifeline of our country's economy is closely linked to tourism," said President Chen Shui-bian (
"If we fail to revive tourism, it would be difficult for us to bring other sectors back to life," Chen said.
Viewing people streaming into the fair, many of whom were parents carrying children, Chiou Charng-kuang (邱長光), chief of the Domestic Tourism Division of the MOTC's Tourism Bureau, was optimistic about the revival of tourism.
"Tourism suffered a drastic downturn after SARS broke out in Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital. It was worst hit in April and May," Chiou said.
According to Chiou, the number of tourists in April and May shrank by 50 to 70 percent compared with last year's figures for the same period.
But the industry began to pick up after the World Health Organization lifted its travel advisory on Taiwan on June 17.
"By now, domestic tourism has recovered by 80 to 90 percent," Chiou said.
"We expect domestic tourism to grow to pre-SARS levels next month," he added.
The Tourism Bureau lists 60 international hotels and 25 ordinary hotels in Taiwan on its Web site. From June 11 to 30, the bureau cut at least half of the hotels' room rates to attract tourists.
Chiou said because so many travel-related special offers are available, the number of domestic tourists in this summer vacation may exceed last year's.
Aloha, one of Taiwan's four major private bus companies running long-haul trips, set up a stall at the fair. In early June, one of its passengers was infected with SARS, fueling the public's fear of using mass transportation.
Aloha, which then launched large-scale disinfection of all its buses and donated NT$5 million to the MOTC as a SARS-research fund, saw a 30 percent reduction in its passengers in April and May.
But the bus company has emerged from the crisis created by SARS.
"Since the government lifted the regulation that facemasks are a must for passengers, our business has gradually recovered," said the company's engineer Luan Fu-sheng (
Hung Sen-yuan (
According to China Airlines Marketing Director in Taiwan Andy Sun (
"Flights from Taiwan to the US are virtually all packed," said Philip Wei (
"People have simply hid in their homes for too long. Now they all pour out," Wei said.