Bird flu leaves China in the cold as tourism demand drops

WORRIES over the latest strain of bird flu in China are deterring Singaporeans from travelling there for holidays.

Demand for tours to China, which has been hit by the H7N9 virus, has dropped by as much as 30 per cent compared to last year, say travel agencies here.

Many of them have also been getting calls from worried customers.

Agencies are taking precautionary measures, such as taking poultry off the menu for travellers.

"We do not bring our customers to poultry farms and bird observatory areas, and we try not to serve chicken and duck on our menus," said CTC Travel senior vice-president Alicia Seah.

At her firm, bookings to China are down 30 per cent from last year.

Chan Brothers also make arrangements for tourists who choose not to consume poultry on their trip.

"We remind our customers constantly of the health measures to observe when they are travelling, such as stay out of contact with live or uncooked poultry, consume only well-cooked poultry and eggs as well as observe personal hygiene," said the agency's marketing communications manager Michelle Yin.

Dynasty Travel leaves Peking duck as an option on the menu, as it is a main draw for some, said its marketing communications executive Cherriann Wong.

Masks are distributed to its travellers, while its tour leaders undergo temperature checks daily, she added.

At ASA Holidays, the number of tour bookings to China for the next three months has dropped 22 per cent compared to the same period last year.

"The dip has fortunately been cushioned by our twice-weekly scheduled flights to Guangxi, which are still seeing loads of business travel," said the ASA Holidays' head of marketing and communications Eileen Oh.

It in not just China that is in the midst of a health scare with the H7N9 virus, which has claimed more than 30 lives and affected several provinces, including Fujian and Jiangxi.

In the Middle East, a new coronavirus is a worry for Muslims who will journey to the region for a religious pilgrimage.

However, there have been few cancellations from travellers here.

"Basically, those who travel to Saudi Arabia do so for religious reasons, so the impact is not that bad," said Sha Travel and Tour director Hanim Hashim.

Travel agencies which organise the Umrah pilgrimage are still awaiting further word from the Health Ministry (MOH).

Said Mr Mohd Roslan Jaafar, secretary of the Association of Muslim Travel Agents Singapore: "We don't have any special precautions, but we are waiting for instructions from MOH to tell our agents what to do."

rmytan@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Cheng JingJie, Eugene Chua