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Flu scare chills China's holiday tourism
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Chinese tour companies are promoting short, domestic trips for the upcoming three-day holiday as the A/H1N1 flu casts a shadow over travel.

The traditional Dragon Boat Festival begins Thursday, when the Chinese eat sticky rice cakes wrapped in bamboo leaves and watch dragon boat matches to mark the death Qu Yuan, one of China's most famous poets.

But the three-day holiday has prompted fewer people this year to travel abroad as more than 12,000 cases of A/H1N1 flu have been reported around the world.

China International Travel Service (CITS) cancelled trips to Europe and Japan after the flu broke out overseas. Bookings for tours to some countries where the flu was reported dropped by more than 50 percent against the same period last year, it said.

"We have to promote more domestic trips to rural destinations so people can enjoy the outdoors and keep far from the flu," said a CITS spokesman.

"No one has inquired about tours to Hong Kong or the Republic of Korea over the holiday, since flu cases were reported there," said Zhao Li, a clerk at Shandong Jiahua Culture International Travel Service. "A 70-member tour group that had been scheduled to arrive in Hong Kong and Macao on May 26 has decided to postpone the tour until June."

Wang Jiachen, general manager of Shandong Airlines International Travel Agency in east China, said fears were also affecting long-distance domestic travel.

"Some people from the southern city of Guangzhou had plans to travel to Jinan (the provincial capital of Shandong), but now we have to cancel the trips because of fears of the flu," he said.

"We are unable to see ahead. I'm worried the travel industry would be hit as it was during the spread of SARS in 2003."

But some officials expressed optimism about the industry.

Wang Chunsheng, an official in charge of domestic travel of the Shandong Provincial Tourism Bureau, said: "These fears would not last long, as the government has been controlling the spread of the virus strictly. The probability of a full-blown pandemic is very low."

"It's a chance for tour companies to switch tourists from international destinations to domestic sites near travelers' hometowns," Wang said.

Chen Shuqin, 44, in Nanjing, capital of east China's Jiangsu Province, said she was still discussing with her family whether to enjoy lobsters in Xuyu City in northern Jiangsu or watch dragon boat matches in Changshu City in the south. Both cities are near Nanjing.

"Prices for tours are much lower than during the May Day holidays about a month ago," she said. "We don't want to miss a chance for a short trip. The flu is not that terrible, and besides, outdoor activities are good for our health."

(Xinhua News Agency May 28, 2009)

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