Thursday, December 08, 2005

News - Tourists unfazed by bird flu in Asia

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The spread of bird flu in Asia does not appear to be putting off tourists but local officials are nervous, fearing a repeat of the SARS outbreak two years ago, which made parts of the region no-go areas.

The H5N1 strain of avian flu has killed 69 people in Asia since late 2003 and several countries in the region regularly report more suspected cases in people and outbreaks in poultry.

Thailand, which has reported 13 deaths from avian flu and where tourism accounts for about 6 percent of gross domestic product, is feeling particularly vulnerable.

"As yet, there is no slippage in numbers," said Montien Tantakit, who runs the Montien Hotel, one of the most expensive hotels in Bangkok.

"But bird flu hurt our business enormously in the past and we predict that if it appears to be an outbreak again, the effect will be the same or even worse this time," he said.

Bookings at the hotel fell by nearly half when the disease spread across provinces last year, he said.

This year however, as in other parts of Asia, bird flu is seen as a relatively minor risk for tourists compared with the threat of terrorist attacks and the Indian Ocean tsunami in December, which killed thousands of people and cost Thailand an estimated 30 billion baht (US$700 million) in lost revenues.

Human cases of bird flu have largely been restricted to rural areas of Asia, with the exception of the Indonesian capital Jakarta.

And as the World Health Organization has not issued any travel warnings against Asian countries, visitors apparently feel reasonably safe.

"I'm not worried about it at all," said Deborah Waller, a 30-year-old lawyer from Auckland, New Zealand, who was visiting Beijing this month. "I haven't even thought about it as the incidents are isolated, and only seem to affect people who hang out with chickens."

Life & Leisure News Article | Reuters.com

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