Downturn clips travellers' wings

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 February, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 February, 1998, 12:00am

Travel agent Willy Cheung Wing-ling's mind is often on the ground these days - worrying about the downturn hitting the industry - rather than in the skies with his customers.

Mr Cheung, 50, launched Wings Travel 10 years ago in Central to serve mostly business travellers, although it also caters for holidaymakers. He went into business after Pan Am, where he worked for 20 years, collapsed. Mr Cheung's last job there was as flight dispatcher at Kai Tak airport. He is married with one son at university.

What's on your mind? Some of my corporate clients are reducing their travel budgets and their staffs, so in other words they're cutting back business. It's not going to be a good year. On the other hand, more people have been visiting Southeast Asia for pleasure, to take advantage of the currency rates. But in the long run, how many can afford to keep travelling? Any thoughts about the impact on tourism in Hong Kong? I talk to people in Singapore, Malaysia, Korea and Thailand and they think travelling these days is a sin to their country. Their currencies are so low and they want to help the Government and not spend so much money abroad.

What effect has the China Airlines crash had? Of course, everyone will try to avoid the airlines that have recently crashed. China Airlines in the past three years has had a few accidents. But people travelling for business have no option but to fly.

Are business travellers more difficult than tourists? Of course. They need more information. You have to be more knowledgeable to handle that kind of travel.

You have to be patient as well because they always want to change their schedule as their clients are always changing appointments.

What's the most unusual journey you've booked? North Korea. A few years ago we had to organise a trip to Pyongyang for some people from Europe. It was very difficult, I had to arrange for them to go through China.

Where do you like to go on holiday? I only get five days off a year so I can't go far, only to Southeast Asia. I rarely take advantage of special offers for travel agents from airlines because the tickets are usually on standby.