|BackIt's back to business in Guangdong 2008-11-14 18:11:59|
Overseas businessmen staying away, but China-based foreigners make work trips and tourists returning as Sars fears fall
By Mary Kwang , The Straits Times, 23 Jun 2003
FOREIGN businessmen based in China are travelling to Guangdong again, after suspending their visits there during the Sars outbreak.
However, businessmen based outside the country have yet to resume travel to the province in noticeable numbers.
Singaporean Marc Tay, general manager of the Holiday Inn City Centre in the provincial capital Guangzhou, said: 'Foreign businessmen within China started coming again to Guangzhou even before the World Health Organisation travel advisory against Guangdong was lifted because they could tell that the outbreak was petering out as the number of new Sars cases reported daily was falling.
'But businessmen from overseas have yet to return.'
One reason for this is that although the WHO has lifted its travel advisory for Guangdong, it remains on its list of Sars-affected areas, despite reporting no new cases for more than 20 days.
Guangdong, where the world's first Sars patient was reported, is seen as the epicentre of the outbreak. It has recorded 1,515 cases, making it the third-worst afflicted Sars area after Beijing and Hong Kong.
The WHO issued its travel advisory for the province on April 2 and removed it on May 23.
Mr Su Jianhe, the deputy director-general of the Guangdong Tourism Administration, said: 'Since April, the province's tourism industry has slid at an unbelievable speed.'
He said that foreign tourism earnings in April totalled US$100 million (S$174 million), 74 per cent down on the same month last year.
Total tourism revenue plunged by 68 per cent to 2.7 billion yuan (S$564 million) that month, he said.
'In May, tourism basically came to a standstill. Few people came. They drifted in, in dribs and drabs.'
And he explained: 'We stopped outbound travel for safety reasons as we did not want Sars to spread. Also, some countries froze tours from Guangdong.'
But with the travel advisory lifted, he said: 'We are actively preparing for the resumption of outbound tours.
'We are talking to each country about whether it is willing to allow our tourists to visit. If the countries are willing, we will talk with them about preventive measures.'
And Mr Chi Xiongbao, director-general of the city's tourism bureau, said tourism has rebounded this month.
'Hotel occupancy rates in Shenzhen have increased by about 20 percentage points to 46 per cent now.'
In the streets and in shopping areas, sentiment is improving among those dependent on the tourism trade.
Shenzhen taxi driver Li Chuntao said: 'At the worst time of the outbreak, I earned about 100 yuan a day, not enough even to pay the rental on the cab.
'Now, I'd say it's better, and I take in about 300 yuan a day. Fare pick-ups at hotels are not as many as previously.
Before the crisis, my revenue was 400-500 yuan a day.'
Twenty-year-old Ah Zhao, a manicurist at the Dream Butterfly Manicure salon in the popular Lowu Commercial Centre, said that business had improved to about 60 per cent of its pre-Sars level, from 25 per cent at the peak of the outbreak.
Many Guangdong residents, like Mr Li, still do not understand why travellers keep away when the locals regard the chances of contracting Sars as slim.
Few Guangdong people wore masks, even at the height of the outbreak.
'Getting Sars is like winning the lottery. Chances are small,' said Mr Li.
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