Tours in disarray over Sichuan ban

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 March, 2009, 12:00am

At least one Hong Kong tour group to Sichuan was called off last night and plans of dozens more were in disarray after mainland authorities ordered that visits to the province's two top tourist spots be cancelled.

The Travel Industry Council confirmed that Hong Kong travel agents had been asked to cancel tours.

'The Sichuan Provincial Tourism Bureau has just notified us that all tour groups to Jiuzhaigou Valley and Huanglong have to be cancelled immediately due to transportation and road problems,' Joseph Tung Yao-chung, the council's executive director, said yesterday. Hong Kong travel agents had been informed about the suspension and there was no indication when tours could resume, he said.

About 50 tour groups, involving 1,200 holidaymakers, had been scheduled to leave Hong Kong for the two attractions by the end of this month, Mr Tung said. He urged travellers to contact their agents for the latest updates.

Ng Hi-on of China Travel Service (Hong Kong) said one of its tour groups was in Sichuan. The group had just visited Jiuzhaigou and had cancelled the Huanglong tour.

'We have about 18 tour groups with over 200 people that will depart for Sichuan by the end of this month,' Mr Ng said. 'We are amending the itineraries now ... our Sichuan tours are usually six days long including three days in Jiuzhaigou Valley and Huanglong,' he said.

Hong Thai Travel said it cancelled one tour to Jiuzhaigou which was scheduled to depart last night. The 19 travellers could choose a refund or use the credit within six months.

The travel agency said it had three groups, with a total of 70 tourists, in Sichuan and their itineraries had not been affected.

Hong Thai said it would make arrangements for another 25 groups scheduled to depart for Sichuan by the end of this month. A travel agent in Chengdu said tours to Huanglong had been suspended because snow disrupted transport.

But another mainland travel agency said it had been told no Hong Kong, Macau and foreign passport holders, especially journalists, were allowed to travel to Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong before April 1.

However, there were no restrictions on mainlanders.

There has been speculation in the Taiwanese media that the suspension is related to the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising, as there is a large Tibetan population in Sichuan.