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SARS fears severely impact tourism in Okinawa

Date Posted: 2003-04-12

Okinawan tour operators say that the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, has severely impacted overseas travel reservations. Reservations for trips to Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and China have been especially hard hit, dropped to almost none.

Travel agencies now fear that Okinawans, instead of heading to overseas destinations during the upcoming "Golden Week" period at the end of April and beginning of May, may stay home. The Golden Week is usually the most profitable time of the year for the travel industry.

"We have reservations for tours to Cherry Blossom Festivals in mainland and to Tokyo Disneyland, but that's all. All of our planned overseas tours are unsold and many people who had reservations have cancelled," a travel agency representative in Naha said. "Fear of SARS is the biggest factor, and the conflict in Iraq does not help either," he added.

Another casualty of the SARS fears is the long-planned Okinawa Exhibition in Hong Kong scheduled to begin Apr. 18. "Although we are going ahead with the exhibition, vendors, handicraft masters and other people will not go there," an Okinawa Prefectural Office official said.

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a travel warning advising people to avoid non-essential travel to affected areas. "Those who must travel to China and other affected countries should avoid crowds and use face masks at all times," an official advised.

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