TALK IS CHEAP. Let us see the numbers. This was a recurring refrain from clients when I made presentations to them in my previous career as an investment analyst and, with all the talk about the impact of Sars, now is a good time to apply it again. The numbers are just starting to come in for April, the month in which the Sars virus struck with its full impact. These numbers are by no means complete and you can count on more of them being presented here as more figures come in but we do have a scattering of initial ones at least in the travel industry. First we have passenger arrivals to the SAR (why did the world not adopt the term 'atypical pneumonia' instead of this implied slur on Hong Kong?). As the table shows, total arrivals in April were only 65.6 per cent of the previous month's level and only 60.8 per cent of the average of the 12 months to March. This is for the total number of passengers, both visitors and Hong Kong residents and for arrivals at all ports of entry, land, sea and air. The key figure of visitor arrivals for April is not yet in, but a rough guess of what it will show can be made from comparing the figures for total passenger arrivals and total resident departures.This guess says there would have been about 440,000 visitor arrivals last month, which may still seem a big figure but is less than a third of the 1.34 million visitor arrivals in March and even lower as a proportion of the 12-month average to March. If this is right, and it cannot be far wrong, then clearly the worst we feared has indeed happened and it is cold comfort to remember that the extent of the plunge was in some measure the result of how enormous the preceding tourism boom had been. This month is unlikely to show better figures, judging from recent travel industry reports. The airport figures confirm the trend. Aircraft movements last month were down by only about a third but this only implies empty aircraft if Cathay Pacific's figures on passenger traffic are representative of what other carriers have suffered. Cathay's passenger numbers and revenue passenger kilometres (RPK) were down by nearer two-thirds. The only bright news for Cathay is that its cargo business has held up. It was down slightly last month but April is traditionally a low month for air cargo and the business had been unusually strong at the turn of the year anyway because of the port strike in America. For passenger traffic within Hong Kong only the Mass Transit Railway Corporation's figures are yet in for April. They indicate an overall 25 per cent drop in patronage and this is after what should have been a boost from the opening of new lines to Tseung Kwan O. My guess is that the bus companies will not show as steep a drop as the MTR when their April figures are in. The MTR has probably suffered worse than the buses from public reluctance to frequent crowded places. It has certainly suffered badly on its Airport Express but this says more about the airport than it does about MTR trains to the airport, which have been far from crowded since they first operated. Elsewhere around the region not much is yet available in the way of figures for last month. Hong Kong has always excelled in providing full up-to-date statistics. From the mainland we have only the total figure for all forms of passenger traffic. They are down but not hugely so, probably because the news of Sars was, shall we say, somewhat slow to spread initially. You can expect worse numbers for May. You can also expect them for Taiwan where the full impact of Sars only hit this month. Both visitor arrivals and resident departures were already far down last month. The May figures probably will show a collapse much worse than Hong Kong's. Even South Korea reported a notable decline in visitor arrivals in April and Korea hardly shows up on the Sars statistics with only three reported cases so far and no deaths. This is all very initial, I admit, but these early figures say that, in travel at least, the impact of Sars has been as bad as was feared.