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For tour operator Jim Berkeley, China has been the “flavor of
the month” for the past three years.
After Sept. 11, said Berkeley, president of Destinations &
Adventures International in Los Angeles, travelers saw the
communist country as a safe destination a place without
Then Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, knocked China
off the “safe destination” pedestal.
Even as the highly contagious illness devastated travel to Hong
Kong and the southern Guangdong province over the past several
weeks, travelers were still going to Beijing and elsewhere in
Then health officials earlier this month revealed that the
number of SARS cases is far larger than initially reported.
The World Health Organization last week added Beijing, Shanxi
Province and Toronto, Canada, to its list of SARS-affected areas to
be avoided by travelers. The capital of Shanxi is Xian, home of the
famed terra cotta warriors. Earlier recommendations to postpone
nonessential travel to Hong Kong and the Guangdong province remain
As of April 23, Beijing officials were reporting 482 cases with
25 deaths. Those numbers are exceeded only by cases in Hong Kong
and Guangdong, where scientists believe the illness originated.
In fact, the 2,305 cases in mainland China (which does not
include those in Taiwan or Hong Kong) accounted for more than half
the worldwide total of 4,288 and the numbers in Beijing were
expected to rise dramatically as confirmation of more cases
Last week, two government officials were fired after admitting
to an attempted coverup, and citizens were urged to curtail travel
plans for the holiday week of May 1 to contain further spread of
That news, said Berkeley, may be the clincher that kills China
travel for the year.
SARS already cut his China business by an estimated 75 percent;
and now, Berkeley said, he doubted he would be sending anyone to
mainland China this year.
April and May are typically peak months for travel to China, but
September and October are also popular. Many travelers have
postponed their spring travel plans until the fall, taking the
gamble that the epidemic will be under control by then.
Tauck World Discovery has cancelled tours to China through the
end of May. But with most travelers choosing to postpone their
travel until September and October, Tauck has added some new fall
departures to accommodate them. Tauck’s three China itineraries
were selling well before SARS hit, said spokeswoman Kendra St.
John, estimating that sales were up about 30 percent over last
Agent Pat Horvath of Acacia Travel in San Diego said she had
three “very deluxe” China bookings this year. The first group,
scheduled to depart in May, have rescheduled in the fall. As of
last week, the clients planning to leave in July and November were
still planning to travel. But, Horvath said, other clients going to
Mongolia have canceled.
Still, said Horvath, “People are really reluctant to cancel.
They’re holding on as long as they can.”
Victoria Cruises has consolidated its weekly Yangtze River
sailings to three in each direction from the original seven through
the end of August.
However, the company said that the way it has reconfigured the
dates will allow most travelers to keep their original
Crystal Cruises also cancelled the remainder of its Orient
season, including the sailing scheduled for May 23.
The ship Crystal Harmony was repositioned to Los Angeles for a
series of cruises in May that officials said already are sold
And Crystal has announced that guests and crew from SARS
affected areas Hong Kong; China; Hanoi, Vietnam; Singapore and
Toronto, Canada will not be allowed to board cruises departing in
Tour operator China Focus, based in San Francisco, has canceled
tours through the first half of June. And, so far, bookings for the
fall are slow, said manager Eddy Lam.
Where other tour operators were already discussing discounts and
promotions that would be launched once the fear of SARS dissipates,
Lam was less optimistic.
“I don’t think price is a concern. Even if you’re offering it
for free, people won’t go,” he said.
Unlike international airlines serving Asia, China Southern
Airlines reported an increase in passengers during March, said the
airline’s U.S. spokesman Jeff Ruffolo. April figures were not
available last week, but reduced demand did prompt the airline to
cut one of its four weekly flights from Los Angeles.
As China’s largest domestic airline, Ruffolo said, the company
is combating SARS aggressively, including passenger screening and
disinfection programs. “We’re doing everything but sticking a giant
red cross on the side of the plane.”
Canada Upset by SARS Caution for Toronto
Ontario travel officials last week expressed disappointment that
the World Health Organization had added Toronto, Canada, to its
SARS travel advisory. WHO recommended that travel to Toronto be
postponed, making it the first SARS-affected region outside Asia to
be considered a high-risk destination. As of last week, the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention had not warned against travel to
the provincial capital, but recommended avoiding its medical
The CDC is also issuing cards to travelers arriving in the
United States from Toronto, urging them to monitor their health for
at least 10 days and explaining how to seek medical care, if
Gord Prisco of the Ontario Ministry of Tourism and Recreation,
said it was too early to determine how SARS has affected the
region, but he said health officials were optimistic that the
situation was improving. “We believe Canada is a safe place to
visit,” he said.
As of April 23, Ontario had 136 confirmed cases of the
respiratory illness, with another 131 suspected, and 15 deaths. In
Canada, there were a total of 330 probable and suspect cases; and