Travel industry fears mount over bird flu

The movement of bird flu across Europe, with further deaths from the disease in the Asia-Pacific region, is heightening health concerns for travellers, as well as focusing media attention on the tourism industry.The cost of Avian flu to the trade is already being felt as consumers heed warnings voiced by the global media and scientists regarding H5N1, more commonly known as bird flu.

European tourism boards have been looking at its crisis management programs. They are concerned that a possible pandemic in the coming northern hemisphere winter could affect both regional and global travel.

If bird flu hits Britain the economy is estimated to loose a possible £97 billion ($US 168 billion) according to researchers at Nottingham University, England. The loss of jobs could equate to 941,000, or 3.3 per cent of the total employment in the UK.

The result would be widespread anxiety about catching the disease, with people changing their living and working habits to avoid unnecessary contact with other people.

The numbers of foreign tourists coming to Britain could fall by up to 75 per cent. Tourism arrivals would drop due to fears of spreading the disease via traditional travel methods, such a air travel.

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“These results underline how important it is to contain the disease to local areas if at all possible,” said Professor Thea Sinclair of Nottingham University.

“As this is potentially a global problem, governments could act together to help to combat the disease in affected countries, in order to limit the likelihood of transmission on a wider scale. Large-scale vaccination could also be considered.”

Romania was one of the first European countries to be hit by the virus, with the remote village of Ceamurlia de Jos on the Danube River Delta ordering a mass culling of chickens.

Swift action was taken, in six days 18,000 birds were slaughtered. The presence of the virus in Romania has affected tourism, with one tourism representative noting that thousands of tourists have cancelled their bookings. Tour operators in the delta estimate a loss of ten million euros ($US 12 million) for the final quarter of 2005.

Secretary-general of the World Tourism Organisation, Francesco Frangialli urged governments to, “act responsibly to prevent a repeat of the SARS scare of 2003. We know that the avian flu epidemic is very likely to happen, but not what regions it could hit or for how long. But we do know from our previous experience with SARS that its effect on tourism could be substantial. “

International tourism is one of the largest components of the worlds economy, worth $US 622 billion last year - spent by more than 763 million tourists according to the WTO . It is currently expanding at an annual rate of close to six per cent.

The bird flu H51N strain was originally discovered in Hong Kong in 1997 and since then has wreaked havoc throughout south east Asia wiping out entire farms and resulting in the mass culling of millions, of both, domestic and wild fowl.

H5N1 has so far infected 117 individuals across four countries and resulted in the death of 60, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Words: Ben Kilbey
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