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Rediff.com  » Business » Swine flu impact: No major cancellations, but travellers anxious

Swine flu impact: No major cancellations, but travellers anxious

Last updated on: April 30, 2009 08:40 IST

R Kannan was looking forward to meet his daughter in Canada and was due to fly on May 2 for a business-cum-pleasure trip that was supposed to take him to the UK, the US and Canada.

Kannan, a general manager for Akbar Travels, the largest travel agent in the country, has cancelled his tickets on the advice of his daughter, and will take a call on his trip in a fortnight. "It's better to avoid if it's not urgent,'' he said.

Travellers have become anxious with the outbreak of swine flu, which has claimed 159 lives in Mexico and a baby in the US (Texas).

Though most people have not yet cancelled their travel plans, travellers are getting apprehensive and keeping a close watch on how the flu spreads.

Several travel agents in Mumbai and Delhi reported a slowdown in fresh bookings for outbound travel in the last few days.

''People who had booked their tickets are not cancelling but people who are yet to plan their vacation are concerned and waiting to make the bookings," said Anup Kanuga of Travel Agent's Association of India.

The domestic travel and hospitality sectors, which are reeling under the impact of the slowdown and the Mumbai terror attacks, are hoping that the swine flu does not spread to other regions and mar sentiment for travel.

Hotel occupancies and tariffs across India have dropped 20 per cent in the last few months, even as foreign tourist arrivals fell by 14 per cent in the first three months of 2009.

Air traffic fell 12.22 per cent in the first three months of 2009. Domestic airlines are likely to incur losses of Rs 8,000 crore (Rs 80 billion) during the year ended March 2009. Rajiv Kaul, senior vice-president, Hotel Leelaventure, said there have been no cancellations so far and hotels are watching the situation closely.

Peter Harbison, managing director at aviation consulting firm Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, said, there will be a temporary concern among travellers.

''If there is no further news of deaths or widespread illness, the impact on bookings should be limited and concerns will dissipate,'' he said. An executive with a European carrier said there could be large-scale cancellations if the flu spreads to other regions.

"For carriers in Mexico and those flying to the country, this is resembling severe acute respiratory syndrome. But most people realise that your chance of death driving to and from the airport in Mexico City or Cancun, still seems to be higher than the likelihood of contracting swine flu,'' said David Huttner, a Beligium-based aviation consultant.

Television reports showed tourists leaving the coastal town of Cancun. Jet Airways, which has a tie-up with an airline to connect passengers to Mexico, has offered waiver on all cancellations.

International outbound travel from India usually picks up in early May. Experts said since a very small part of India's outbound traffic goes to Mexico, the outbound travel from India would not see a largescale impact.

However, if the swine flu spread to the US, it would have a serious impact, since travel to the US accounts for 12-15 per cent of outbound revenues for a travel company.

Subhash Goel of Delhi-based Stic Travels said many customers who have booked their tickets with him are enquiring about the situation, and 4-7 per cent of them have deferred their travel plans.

''There is no major impact now but outbound travel will come down by 20-25 per cent if the disease spreads to other cities. But we expect a 20 per cent growth in inbound travel,'' Goel added.

BS Reporters in New Delhi/Mumbai
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