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Tourism industry keeps careful watch on Zika outbreak

Thursday, September 1, 2016 - 05:50
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The National Environment Agency has ramped up inspections and begun vector control in the affected areas, in addition to reaching out to the public to raise awareness.

Singapore

LOCAL tourism players say they have so far not had a spike in cancellations for travel and accommodation following the Zika outbreak in Singapore, but are nonetheless monitoring the situation.

The rash of infections comes a fortnight before the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix, and not long before the fourth quarter, typically the peak travel season.

The latest Health Ministry update on Wednesday put the number of locally-transmitted Zika cases so far at 115; a pregnant woman was among the 24 new cases announced on Wednesday.

Managing partner of consultancy firm HVS (Asia-Pacific) Chee Hok Yean said that while there may be a "knee-jerk reaction" to the news that the mosquito-borne illness has landed in Singapore, it is unlikely to pose a major setback to tourism.

Indeed, in what might be an example of a knee-jerk reaction, food centres and shops in the Aljunied Crescent/Sims Drive area were reported to have already seen a plunge in traffic and business.

Ms Chee noted, however, that the National Environment Agency (NEA) has ramped up inspections and begun vector control in the affected areas, in addition to reaching out to the public to raise awareness.

The Royal Plaza on Scotts hotel has had three cancellations since Tuesday; one was by a pregnant guest due to arrive from Canada, and the two by customers in China.

Meanwhile, the United States, South Korea, Australia and Taiwan have issued travel advisories warning pregnant women - or even those trying to conceive - against travel to Singapore.

Although Zika presents as a mild infection in adults, expectant mothers have reason to worry: the virus can cause unborn babies to develop abnormally small heads.

Patrick Fiat, general manager of Royal Plaza on Scotts, said: "If the current number of cases increases, then we may see the situation worsen. Travellers will be more cautious about visiting affected areas to protect themselves and their loved ones."

With this in mind, hotels are adopting precautionary measures, which range from providing guests with mosquito repellent to carrying out daily checks to find and destroy mosquito breeding sites.

General manager of The Fullerton Heritage, Cavaliere Giovanni Viterale, said the hotel has stepped up fumigation around the precinct, among other measures. It has had no cancellations at the Fullerton Hotel and Fullerton Bay Hotel.

Over at the Marina Mandarin, thorough cleaning of all areas has been carried out; insecticide has been sprayed in open areas and in its rooms. Thermometers and first-aid kits have also been prepared as a precaution and a doctor is on call for guests who feel unwell.

Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines (SIA) said it has not seen significant changes in demand for travel to or from Singapore. In response to queries from The Business Times, the national carrier said it has adopted measures both on the ground and onboard its planes to minimise the spread of diseases, including the screening of passengers.

Its spokesman said: "If any passenger appears to be unwell, he or she will be asked to see a doctor immediately. We will not carry any passenger whom we believe is a risk to others on board. Our crew are also advised to inform us if they are unwell and unable to report for duty."

Chan Brothers also reported that it has not had cancellations on its inbound tours, participants of which are mostly travelling for Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (the MICE sector). The travel agency's spokeswoman Jane Chang said adjustments can be made to tour itineraries; if necessary, outdoor attractions can be replaced with indoor ones.

Others say it could still be too early to ascertain how severely the tourism industry might be hit. A travel agent who declined to be named said: "If there are more new Zika cases, we will probably see the impact on arrivals in October."

Early October marks Golden Week in China, a prime time for travel, and China was Singapore's biggest source market for travellers in the first half of this year. The number of Chinese tourists surged 55 per cent to 1.47 million, feeding into Singapore's double-digit growth in overall visitor arrivals, which rose 12.5 per cent year on year to 8.17 million in H1.

The travel agent said: "But we are hopeful that the authorities will have everything under control."

READ MORE: Fears of Zika's effects may impact fertility, birth rates: specialists

For all our Zika coverage, go to bt.sg/zika

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