By Louise Longman

OPERATORS are reeling from another devastating blow to sales following
the latest advisory against travel to Beijing and Toronto.

The spread of the SARS virus has led to the latest Foreign and
Commonwealth Office warning, which follows existing advisories against
“non-essential travel” to Hong Kong and Guangdong province. It is a potentially
fatal blow not only to China and Canada specialists, but to a trade still
struggling to pick up the pieces after the war in Iraq.

Cancellation policies, agreed with the Federation of Tour Operators,
swung into action following the news.

Most operators to China are offering free cancellations, alternative
destinations and the chance to rebook until May 23 for departures later in the
year. Advice to Toronto is being reviewed weekly after an appeal by city
authorities.

ABTA has been inundated with calls from operators, agents and customers
but a spokeswoman said the biggest concern was that China is entering its peak
season. Around 3,000 holidaymakers were in China as Travel Weekly went to press.

David Moesli, deputy director of the Civil Aviation Authority’s consumer
protection group, said he would watch for potential business failures. “War and
flu epidemics are not the sort of things people put in their plans,” he said.

FTO secretary-general Alan Flook said specialists would suffer most, but
added “it’s not good news for airlines or hotels either”.

Jim Millward, marketing manager at China specialist
Audley Travel, said: “If the virus is restricted, operators should survive –
but what if it spreads?”