UN tourism body warns against overreaction to SARS

UN tourism body warns against overreaction to SARS

The impact of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) on many tourism destinations is already greater than last year's terrorist attack on Bali and airlines have been hit harder than they were by the war in Iraq, but the industry should not over-react, according to the United Nations-affiliated World Tourism Organization (WTO).

"We deeply sympathize with those affected," WTO Secretary-General Francesco Frangialli says in a press release in Madrid. "But although it is important for the tourism industry to take SARS very seriously, it should not over-react to an epidemic which seems to have been brought under control in most countries which had been affected."

WTO, an inter-governmental body entrusted by the UN with the promotion and development of tourism, is planning to launch as soon as possible an initiative regarding travel advisories and it warns of a wave of paranoia affecting non-infected destinations.

"While governments and other institutions must assume their responsibilities in protecting citizens from proven risks, the recommended restrictions should be no broader than strictly needed to avoid creating additional problems for industries like tourism, which can make such a decisive contribution to social and economic development," Mr. Frangialli says.

Noting its rapid spread from one corner of the world to another by travellers, and cases of transmission in hotels, restaurants, places of entertainment, or planes, WTO says SARS is perceived to be linked to tourism itself, even though local transmission such as close contact in households, hospitals and other contexts is far more prevalent. Out of thousands of probable SARS cases, only five are believed to have possibly resulted from transmission in a plane, and those occurred before screening and other security measures were introduced in many airports and companies, it adds.

The agency says the impact on global tourism is liable to be all the more severe since, as in the Bali attack last year, it chiefly concerns the only region in the world, Asia-Pacific, that has recently seen strong, sustained growth in its flows - eight per cent in 2002.

"Moreover, the reality of the epidemic is being compounded by its intense coverage by the media, which has led to a veritable wave of paranoia in certain countries," the release states. "In such circumstances, Asian destinations that have not recorded any cases of infection to date - including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, the Philippines and Thailand - have suffered almost as much as the areas actually affected, China, Hong Kong and Singapore."