The Travel Quality Assurance Association yesterday estimated that about 500 travel agencies would be forced to suspend operations in the first half of this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The association, whose members include more than 3,926 travel agencies, said that almost all of its members would be forced to temporarily stop businesses should the outbreak continue into the second half.
The first six months is usually the high season for tours to Japan, as Taiwan has the Lunar New Year holiday in January and three long weekends — 228 Peace Memorial Day last month, Tomb Sweeping Day in April and Dragon Boat Festival in June — association secretary-general Wu Mei-hui (吳美惠) said, adding that Japan’s cherry blossom season began this month.
Photo: Chuang Shih-hsien, Taipei Times
Many travel agencies are already facing severe challenges caused by declining revenue due to the outbreak, Wu said.
What makes the situation worse is that service suppliers that work with travel agencies confiscate deposits paid on behalf of tourists, Wu said, adding that this makes funding shortfalls arise more swiftly.
“Our conservative estimate is that more than 500 travel agencies would temporarily cease business in the first half,” she said. “At least 1,500 travel agencies might be forced to place their employees on furlough. Should the disease persist until the second half, more than 90 percent of travel agencies across the nation would temporarily suspend operations.”
The disease has prompted more than 2,000 complaints to the association last month over how travel agencies have handled tour cancelations, which is more than it normally receives in a year, she said.
Normally, the association handles 1,200 to 1,300 consumer complaints per year, Wu said.
Most of the complaints were over cancelations of tours to Japan and Europe, she said.
The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) has announced a level 2 “alert” for Japan, urging people to take enhanced precautions when traveling there.
Apart from Italy, which is under a level 3 “warning,” the CECC has not listed European nations as affected by COVID-19.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has raised its travel alert to Hokkaido in Japan to “orange,” meaning that people should avoid unnecessary travel there.
Wu said that people are still concerned about traveling overseas, even to a non COVID-19-affected area, as they fear the risk of contracting the virus in closed environments, such as aircraft and buses.
The main reason for complaints is that people think that fees for canceled tours are too high, Wu said, adding that 70 percent of cases were over dissatisfaction with flight ticket refunds.
“If the airlines refuse refunds, fees for canceling tours would inevitably be high. This upsets people, who file complaints with the association or the Consumer Protection Committee, or even seek assistance from legislators representing their electoral districts,” Wu said.
The total amount in dispute from fees due to canceled tours could exceed NT$10 billion (US$331.96 million) by the end of June, she said.
The disputes put many travel agencies in a bind, she said.
Based on the standardized travel contract, consumers must be given receipts if they are asked to pay fees.
However, some airlines, particularly those operating flights to Japan, refuse to produce receipts and if the consumer refuses to pay, travel agencies are forced to cover this expenses themselves, she said.
Other tour service providers are also adamant that deposits would not be refunded, even though consumers are pressing the travel agencies to give full refunds, Wu said.
“The Ministry of Transportation and Communications should discuss how travel agents, airlines and hotels should handle the situation,” Wu said. “It should establish the standards for refunds and make procedures transparent.”
‘UNAFRAID’: Most Taiwanese do not seem to be aware of the danger of war and might be unprepared, a KMT legislator said of the poll by an affiliated foundation Nearly 60 percent of Taiwanese believe that a war between Taiwan and China is “unlikely” or “impossible,” a survey released yesterday by the National Policy Foundation showed. The survey asked participants if they thought there was a possibility of war between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait based on recent developments, said the foundation, which is affiliated with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). While 42.5 percent of respondents thought it was “unlikely” and 17.1 percent believed it was “impossible,” 5.1 percent said it was “very likely” and 17.2 percent said it was “fairly possible,” the survey showed. Another 18.2 percent gave
The Kaohsiung Prosecutors’ Office on Monday indicted a Chinese sea captain over his alleged involvement in the killing of four pirates at sea in 2012, while serving as the captain of a Taiwanese fishing vessel. The suspect, identified by the media as 43-year-old Wang Fengyu (汪峰裕), was charged with homicide and breaches of the Controlling Guns, Ammunition and Knives Act (槍砲彈藥刀械管制條例), the indictment read. Wang asked two Pakistani mercenaries that he hired as acting captain of the Kaohsiung-registered Ping Shin No. 101 to fire on and kill four suspected Somalian pirates in the Indian Ocean off the Somalian coast on Sept. 29,
UPGRADE: The system is more efficient than others, which typically involve longer procedures that can produce pseudo-positive or pseudo-negative results The National Synchrotron Radiation Research Center yesterday unveiled an infrared wax physisorption kinetics imaging system, which it said efficiently detects 10 types of cancer. Through scanning tissue section samples, the imaging system can detect colon, breast, stomach, oral, ovarian, cervical, prostate and skin cancer, as well as neuroendocrine tumors and glioblastoma, center associate research fellow Lee Yao-chang (李耀昌) told a news conference in Taipei. The system uses paraffin and beeswax with organic solutions as developers for its infrared imaging device, which can mark abnormal polysaccharides on the surface of cancer cells in six to 15 minutes, while the wax is absorbed by
China is trying to convince Taiwanese that an authoritarian system is preferable to democracy, the Information Operations Research Group (IORG) said at a conference yesterday. China has been employing Taiwanese sympathetic to its “united front” tactics to help spread disinformation about democracy and Taiwanese society through social media, television programs, YouTube and by other means, the group said at the conference to promote public awareness of China’s cognitive warfare campaign. In the group’s latest report, it highlighted eight disinformation discussions that its researchers listed under three main topics: flu viruses in the US are deadlier than COVID-19; US troop movements caused the