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 April 04, 2003
Hong Kong: Provisional March Arrivals Data Shows Difficult Times Ahead

 The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) issued provisional arrivals figures for March 2003 (4 April), showing that despite a severe fall-off in arrivals following the outbreak of atypical pneumonia (AP) in the middle of March, overall arrivals for the month remained in positive growth. Provisionally, there were around 1.34 million arrivals, an increase of 3.6% over the same month in 2002.

However, the rapid downturn in arrivals to Hong Kong can be seen by comparing the first 15 days of the month, when growth of 19.1% was recorded, and the last 16 days, which saw a 10.4% fall.

HKTB Executive Director Clara Chong said that although these figures were only provisional, and it was not yet possible to give market-by-market breakdowns, the Board was releasing them at the earliest possible opportunity as it was aware that the travel industry and the media were very anxious to get an up-to-date picture of the impact of AP on visitor arrivals.

"It seems that in the early stages of the outbreak, the drop in arrivals was not too severe," Ms Chong noted. "This is because many travellers had already confirmed their bookings, and at that stage only a few countries had issued advisories on travel to this region. However, the situation has become progressively worse as worldwide concern about the spread of AP has grown.

"The rapidly declining trend is obviously very worrying, and we know that forward bookings for the next few months are very low indeed. It is clear already that April is going to be an extremely difficult month for the tourism industry, especially now that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a global advisory against non-essential travel to Hong Kong and Guangdong.

"This measure will undoubtedly affect tourism in the short term, but it is only temporary and the WHO has said that it will be reassessed as the situation stabilises," Ms Chong added. "We know that the Government and all parties involved are doing their best to improve the situation. It is encouraging to see that the WHO has recognised the effective measures Hong Kong is taking to tackle the problem."

Ms Chong added that although the AP outbreak was by far the major issue affecting travel to Hong Kong, the Iraq war was another dampening factor. "Even if the AP situation shows improvement, a long drawn-out war would continue to affect public sentiment to travel," she said.

Ms Chong said that the HKTB, its overseas offices, the Government and the travel trade both locally and internationally were now starting to prepare a strong "comeback campaign" to restore travellers' confidence in Hong Kong as soon as the time was right. "All the fundamentals that make Hong Kong such a diverse and exciting place to visit are still there," she noted. "The entire industry stands ready to unite in putting Hong Kong firmly back on the tourism map."