Business travellers from India don't mind flying over the war zone if they can avoid the peninsula of the mystery pneumonia. An increasing number of travellers are opting to fly over Europe and West Asia to India rather than over Southeast Asia.
"Outbound passengers to the US and Europe from India are opting for this longer route despite the fact that it takes them closer to the war zone," said Seema Luthra, Galileo India.
The severe acute respiratory syndrome scare has also prompted India Inc to cancel scheduled meetings in Singapore and Hong Kong. Ballarpur Industries, for example, had scheduled to hold the annual conference of its dealers in Hong Kong from April 1.
It has now decided to hold the meeting some time in May. Also, the finance department of the company had planned to hold its conference in Singapore in the last week of March. The venue of the meeting has been shifted to Kuala Lumpur.
PricewaterhouseCoopers has also issued an advisory to its people asking them not to travel to the infected countries.
Ranbaxy has cautioned its people against travelling to Singapore, Hong Kong and China. "We are making our top management and the business community members aware of the situation prevailing there. The human resources team in India is being sent the latest updates along with frequently asked questions about the disease," a Ranbaxy spokesperson said.
Outbound traffic from India to Southeast Asia has already dropped by 15-20 per cent and travel agents say cancellations have shot up to as much as 50 per cent in the Hong Kong sector.
Keeping in view the low passenger traffic, Air-India suspended one flight each on the Delhi-Hong Kong and Delhi-Bangkok sectors in March. Though no other airline is planning to cancel operations, Thai Airways has seen a perceptible dip in traffic.
"Thailand has not had any case of SARS yet, but due to the fear psychosis we have witnessed a 10-15 per dip in passenger load now," Thai Airways executives told Business Standard.
Business travel from the US and Europe has been particularly affected. "Business travel to Singapore and Hong Kong has dropped by 15-20 per cent. Due to the blanket advisories issued in the US and Europe, business travel to India has also dropped by 7 per cent," said Ankur Bhatia, managing director (Indian subcontinent), Amadeus India.
Outbound traffic to Hong Kong has witnessed a sharp drop of 50 per cent, said Cox & Kings' Regional Manager (North India) Vikas Khanduri. He added that the destination may see a 70 per cent drop in tourist traffic in the April-May tourist season.
According to Thai Airways executives, the airline has seen a significant dip in passenger traffic from Thailand to Singapore and Hong Kong. Though Cathay Pacific executives said there had been some cancellations, business "remains strong out of India". Malaysia Airlines is also facing a problem with a 2-3 per cent drop in traffic from India.
Airports in India have also geared up to face the SARS menace. "Our doctors are working round the clock and we have also imparted special training to airport immigration officers," said SK Singh, airport health officer, Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi.
Dos and don'ts for the traveller
- Make sure you are in good health before travelling abroad. Those with residual infections of any kind are more prone to contracting the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus.
- If you are travelling back to India from any of the countries that have been affected by the virus, ensure you speak to the medical officer stationed at the four major Indian airports -- Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata -- if you have any or all of the following symptoms: a cold, difficulty in breathing and a temperature higher than 38 degrees Celsius. The medical officers will advise you on what to do.
- The virus is communicated through air -- which is why it is affecting the doctors handling patients ill with the virus. Ensure you limit meetings in confined spaces to the minimum. The longer the contact, the more the chances of contracting the virus.
- The virus has been identified and diagnostic kits have been purchased for India. So if you have travelled abroad recently and have the symptoms described above go to any of the three major public hospitals: AIIMS, Safdarjung Hospital or Rammanohar Lohia Hospital.