Travel agents act to mitigate China smog

The air quality in Beijing soared to "hazardous" levels on Wednesday, and is set to return to such levels over the weekend.
The air quality in Beijing soared to "hazardous" levels on Wednesday, and is set to return to such levels over the weekend.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Holidaymakers in Beijing to get bottled water, face masks; itineraries tweaked

Smog in China's capital, caused by severe air pollution, has jolted travel agencies here into action.

Several have told their tour operators there to distribute face masks and bottled water to Singaporean holidaymakers in the city. Others are tweaking tour itineraries or handing out hotline numbers for travellers to dial in an emergency.

Beijing's Air Quality Index, which measures levels of harmful PM2.5 particles, was in the "hazardous" range of over 300 for most of Wednesday. It fell to "moderate" levels on Thursday before rising to "unhealthy" levels yesterday evening, according to real-time data compiled by the United States Embassy in Beijing.

China's National Meteorological Centre was reported in the local media as saying that the reprieve was due to weak winds and that the smog would return to hazardous levels over the weekend.

On Tuesday, Chinese officials issued a pollution "red alert" for the first time and rolled out measures such as halting construction work, shutting down polluting industries and restricting the number of private cars on the roads.

In Singapore, CTC Travel told its ground operators in Beijing to give face masks to its 280 Singaporean travellers now touring the city.

Several itineraries have been tweaked, said its marketing manager Kelly Toh. She said: "Most of our Singaporean travellers stay in Beijing for four or five nights. This gives us the flexibility to move outdoor activities back or conduct them on clear days."

CTC has more than 700 bookings for group tours to China from now till the year end. There have been no cancellations or postponements so far, although some customers have called to express concern about the smog.

Travel agencies contacted said December is the peak season for Singaporeans to visit China.

China National Tourism Administration figures show that 971,400 Singaporeans visited China last year. The Republic is in eighth spot on its list of tourism source countries. About 40 per cent visit Beijing, said travel agencies here.

Dynasty Travel has 88 travellers in Beijing and has received about 10 smog-related inquiries from the 420 Singaporeans due to travel there from now till the year end.

Spokesman Alicia Seah said: "We are worried. We've instructed our ground operators to stock up on masks and we will replace outdoor activities with indoor shopping trips or acrobatic shows, if need be." She added that 35 per cent of Dynasty's travellers to Beijing are above the age of 60.

Chan Brothers Travel, which has more than 100 Singaporeans in Beijing now, said bookings to the Chinese capital are still coming in daily.

"Masks and water are being provided to those on tour. Based on photographs from our tour leaders, the situation on the ground appears manageable," said its head of marketing communications Jane Chang. She added that free-and-easy tourists have been informed of a 24-hour hotline for emergency support.

The National Association of Travel Agents Singapore said it is monitoring the situation and will issue an advisory to its more than 350 members if needed.

Mr Tan Koon Kiong, 42, who is leaving for an eight-day trip to China - including five days in Beijing - todaywith his 65-year-old mother, said he booked the trip in August.

He said: "I am concerned about my mother. If the smog has not cleared, we will probably choose not to join some outdoor activities."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2015, with the headline 'Travel agents act to mitigate China smog'. Print Edition | Subscribe