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Travel agencies worried
( 2003-09-11 17:12) (eastday.com)

Barely had Shanghai travel agencies recovered from the crippling effects of SARS, when they were gripped with fear once again after Singapore's Health Ministry confirmed on Tuesday that a Singaporean had contracted the flu-like disease.

Yesterday, agencies were inundated with calls inquiring about the situation in Singapore. Some callers even wanted to cancel tours to the city-state.

"A great number of people have applied for a trip to Singapore during the week-long National Day holiday. If the situation there becomes serious, it will definitely hurt us," said Chen Shuiqin of Shanghai China Travel Service.

According to Chen, the company will refund clients whose departure is at least 10 days away. "So far, two people have canceled their trips," she said.

Shanghai Airlines Tours International Co Ltd also refunded several clients yesterday, but declined to disclose the exact number.

"I feel sad since our business was just rebounding," said Wang Yan, general manager of the agency's outbound travel center. "It is hard to predict what will happen if the deadly epidemic returns."

Managers of two other big local tour agencies - Jin Jiang Tours Ltd and Shanghai China International Travel Service Co Ltd - are worried about the future although no one had canceled trips with them so far.

"It will definitely affect our business," said Hao Ming, Southeast Asia department manager of Jin Jiang.

However, the reappearance of SARS in Singapore hasn't stopped overseas visitors from coming to the city.

A 36-member tour group from the United States, organized by Morocco-based Grand Circle, a travel firm targeting people 50 years and older, arrived yesterday on a three-day city tour.

"We are having fun in China. It's totally different from what we were told in the United States," said 76-year-old Arthur Leman from Boston.

The group went to Beijing last week, and will also visit the Three Gorges area, Xi'an, Guilin and Hong Kong.

"We should have been here in May, but the epidemic prevented us from travelling," said Mike Castelberg, a 63-year-old from Houston.

According to Wu Shilin of Shanghai Airlines Tours, local partner of Grand Circle since 2000, this is the fifth group his company has received since last month.

"Before SARS, at least two groups from Grand Circle, comprising 30-60 tourists each, visited the city every week," Wu revealed.

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