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Travel, Tourism and SARS

SARS and travel are intricately interlinked. Travellers were among those primarily affected in the early stages of the outbreak, and they became vectors of the disease, and finally, travel and tourism themselves became the victims. The outbreak of SARS created international anxiety because of its novelty, its ease of transmission in certain settings, and the speed of its spread through jet travel, combined with extensive media coverage.

By 15 March 2003, the WHO had begun to issue an unprecedented series of travel advisories (e.g. advice to postpone non-essential travel to a SARS-affected area). The purpose was to limit the spread of infection by international travel.

Impact of SARS on Tourism Air travel to areas affected by the advisories decreased dramatically during the epidemic, although the impact of advisories compared with other sources of information to travellers, such as news media, is difficult to assess.

International tourism arrivals fell 1.2% to 694 million in 2003, according to World Tourism Organization (WTO) figures. Growth of the broader travel and tourism economy, which measures visitor spending around the world as well as capital investment, slowed to 2.9% from about 5% in previous years (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/3024015.stm). In East Asia, tourist arrivals dropped by 41% between April 1st and 21st compared to the same period in 2002, with the following Asian destinations suffering in particular — China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore.

Over the months of the outbreak, there was a drop of 12 million arrivals in Asia and the Pacific, constituting a 9% drop compared to the previous year. According to Rick Miller, vice president of research and economics at the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), the impact of SARS on these countries has been four or five times the impact of 11 September in the United States. In the first 5 months of 2003, overseas and domestic tourist arrivals in Beijing dropped by 480,000 and 8.7 million, respectively, generating losses as high as 11 billion Yuan (US$1.3 billion).

The hotel occupancy rates in Beijing fell down to 10%. Four lakh foreign tourists cancelled their tours to Vietnam in 2003. The Toronto crisis cost the province of Ontario’s leisure industry around Canadian $2 billion in lost revenues and 28,000 jobs, according to Ontario Ministry of Tourism figures.

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