This year is the 75th anniversary of The Peninsula Hong Kong,
but promotions are on hold as hotel officials struggle with the
effects of a disease that has devastated travel to the Asian hub
As of last week, there were no reports of Severe Acute
Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, among guests or staff members at the
Peninsula, and the hotel is taking every precaution to keep it that
way, said Peter Borer, the Peninsula’s group general manager for
Asia. Surfaces in high-traffic areas are being disinfected every 15
minutes. Staff members are wearing gloves and masks. Some hotel
restaurants are closed, in part because occupancy is down.
“Like the rest of Hong Kong, we have seen a very serious
downturn,” said Borer.
That downturn has also reached U.S. travel agents specializing
in Asia. They say business, which was down, dropped even more
sharply this month after the U.S. State Department issued travel
warnings for Hong Kong,China and Vietnam.
Also, the World Health Organization has recommended that
non-essential travel to Hong Kong and the Guangdong province in
China be delayed. And the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention has warned against travel to Hong Kong, mainland China,
Singapore and Hanoi.
As of April 9, 2,722 cases of SARS were reported worldwide, with
Industry observers have speculated that SARS is having a bigger
impact on air travel than the war in Iraq. But Dave Dickson, Ernst
& Young airline industry analyst, disagrees.
He noted that SARS took airlines by surprise, but that the
outbreak is likely to last only a few weeks. In contrast, threats
of war have increased fuel prices for months, putting a huge burden
on the industry.
“But, if SARS goes on for another six months,” observed Dickson,
“it could be devastating.”
Signs of SARS’ impact on travel continue to grow:
" Tour operator Globus has cancelled April tours to China and
Hong Kong, and tours to Vietnam until further notice.
" Tauck World Discovery also cancelled April departures for two
itineraries that visit China, Hong Kong and Vietnam.
" Victoria Cruises took five of its eight ships sailing the
Yangtze River in China out of operation until mid-June.
" Continental Airlines suspended its five weekly flights from
New York to Hong Kong. It plans to reinstate service June 2.
" Cathay Pacific canceled one of its two daily flights from Los
Angeles to Hong Kong through the end of the month. Overall, Cathay
has cut service by 23 percent since the beginning of the Iraq war
and the SARS outbreak.
" Princess Cruises last week said passengers will not be allowed
to board if they come from, travel through or visit the regions
most affected by SARS (Guangdong province, Hong Kong, Singapore and
Hanoi) within 10 days of their cruise departure. The advisory
applies to all cruises through April 20.
" The 52nd Annual Conference of the Pacific Asia Travel
Association is being held this week in Bali. About 950 delegates
were expected, but last week anticipated attendance dropped to
Many cancelled because their companies have banned travel to the
region, PATA officials said.
Last week a Business Travel Coalition survey showed a jump in
the number of corporations banning travel to Asia. Of 144
responding, 58 percent have banned travel, up from 24 percent the
For Ann Kendall, an agent with Pacific Travel International who
handles corporate travel out of Silicon Valley, SARS has virtually
wiped out her regular bookings to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and
In the past three weeks, 30 corporate travelers canceled trips
to the region, she said. And those who are still traveling have
refused to fly on certain regional airlines.
Leisure travel also is down. Frank Lee of Lotus Travel and Tours
in San Francisco said his China business has “totally stopped.”
While future bookings are holding, he said that his clients are
Cam Tsai, owner of 5 Oceans Travel in Westminster, Calif.,
estimated her business to Asia has dropped about 80 percent. The
agency, which handles mostly leisure travel, also operates tours
throughout Asia, many of which have been canceled for April.
Still, Tsai said she feels the U.S. media is overreacting to the
scare, saying returning travelers are finding panic levels much
higher in America than they were in Asia.
China Travel Service USA, a tour operator based in San Francisco
that specializes in Yangtze River cruises, also is reporting some
client cancellations though most were just avoiding Hong Kong. As
of last week, the company had no plans to cancel any tours.
In fact, officials there were discussing rebooking incentives
once the fear of SARS begins to wane, which many expect will be
Like mad cow disease in England, this will pass, noted travel
agent Rita Kreiser of The Travel Desk in San Jose, Calif.
Still, others say it will take time for consumers to regain
confidence in the region.
Said Borer at the Peninsula Hong Kong: “Unless we have a clean
bill of health from the WHO, it would be futile to make plans for
advertising or promoting the hotel at this point.”
SARS on the Web
World Health Organization: www.who.int
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov
Hong Kong Department of Health: www.info.gov.hk/dh
Hong Kong Tourism Board: DiscoverHongKong.com, or
Singapore Ministry of Health: app.moh.gov.sg
Taiwan Department of Health: www.doh.gov.tw
Thai Ministry of Public Health: eng.moph.go.th
Health Canada: www.hc-sc.gc.ca
The Business Travel Coalition surveys on SARS: