Agents report cancellations to Malaysia

21 March 2003

KUALA LUMPUR - Leading travel agents in Malaysia have received cancellations for both inbound and outbound tours and incentive trips in the past few days due, to the combined blows of the Iraq war and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Diethelm Travel, which has 95 percent of its business from Europe, had its first cancellations a few days back because of the SARS scare, and not the war.

"Some European media lumped Asia collectively as the source of outbreak of SARS, so we have received cancellations from a few groups. Then the war starts and we have more calls to postpone their trips to Malaysia. I expect the next two months to be very soft," said its managing director, Manfred Kurz.

Anthony Wong, group managing director, Asian Overland Services Tours and Travel, had cancellations from Europe and Philippines for the Formula 1 race currently on and for the round Malaysia tours. Most of the cancellations are from long haul markets.

"The regional markets are holding up well, with slight cancellations. This market is more dependable and we will focus on it for the future," he said.

The outbound market too suffered despite the buying frenzy at the recent MATTA International Travel Fair. Executive director of Marco Polo Holidays, Jiun Kiew, said the company has received cancellations for China tours bought at the fair due to the SARS scare.

"The Iraq war only affects the choice of destinations, with most consumers opting for regional travel and not longhaul. Australia is actually benefiting from the two developments.

Those who cancelled their Hong Kong/China tours have opted for Australia, with some diverting to Korea and Japan. I expect outbound traffic to be slow for the next few weeks while waiting for the war and the SARS scare to be over. People will still travel but regionally. I am sure traffic will be back to normal, as long as the war is contained and no reports of more people dying of SARS."

Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines has cancelled flights to Istanbul, Beirut, Dubai and Cairo for the next three days due to low demand following the outbreak of the Iraq war, its senior general manager corporate services, Dr Mohamadon Abdullah said in a statement yesterday.

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