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Bird Flu Seen Impacting Chinese Tourism

Tourism operators on the mainland and in Hong Kong are taking precautions, and some are anticipating sharp declines in business during the holiday season.

SHANGHAI — With only a few days left before millions of Chinese embark on vacations for annual May Day holidays, tourism operators both on the mainland and in Hong Kong are taking precautions as a rare strain of bird flu continues to spread.

As of Sunday afternoon, 102 cases of the H7N9 avian flu have been reported in China, 21 of which have been fatal, according to the state-run China Daily newspaper. Initial cases, first reported at the end of March, emerged in Shanghai and neighboring provinces in eastern China. New cases have since been found in Beijing and Henan Province, located in central China. World Health Organization representatives studying the virus said there are indications that the bird flu has been spread between humans, according to the China Daily. The source of the virus still remains unknown.

Hong Kong media reported that hotels and travel agencies are being urged to monitor the health of tourists during the upcoming three-day holiday, which begins on April 29.  Up to a million mainland Chinese travel to Hong Kong annually for the break. Chinese state media reported that tourism and catering industries in eastern China are anticipating sharp declines in business during the holiday as domestic tourists opt to travel elsewhere or stay at home.

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Some travel agencies are projecting a 30 percent year-on-year decline in business due fears surrounding H7N9, according to a local business publication.

“We are aware of the recent outbreak of H7N9 flu virus in China and are monitoring the situation closely,” Marriott International, Inc., which has more than 130 hotels in the region, including 63 in China, said in a statement. “Our hotel hygiene standards include frequently cleaning areas such as hand rails, telephones, door handles, elevator buttons and fitness center equipment. In our training and communications, we emphasize the importance of good hygiene, both personal and in the workplace.” 

The flu does not appear to have impacted consumer confidence significantly in Shanghai- at least so far. Over the weekend, shopping malls across the city were packed. Some shopping centers, including a mall located in Shanghai’s high-end Xintiandi retail complex, have posted signs alerting consumers of extra precautions taken to disinfect stores.
 
Amidst the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2003, Beijing cancelled the May holiday to prevent the illness from being further spread in the country.