Guangzhou visitor flow steady

Visitor arrivals to Guangzhou continue to be steady despite a report on March 2 of a man dying of the H5N1 virus.

With the opening of the first session of the twice-yearly China Export Commodities Fair in Guangzhou approaching, the travel and hotel industry is preparing to welcome about 180,000 visitors to the city. According to the latest statistics, 1.9 million people visited Guangdong in 2004, an annual increase of 19 per cent. Revenues from foreign exchange earnings totalled US$25.74 billion in 2004 (13.7 per cent of Guangdong's GDP), an increase of 47.8 per cent from the previous year.

The city's health authorities have been reluctant to divulge their response plan in case of a bird flu outbreak, but hotel bookings seem as buoyant as ever.

Several upmarket hotels in Guangzhou are already reporting full houses for the trade fair period and international participants seem, for the time being, oblivious to the risks of a pandemic.

According to a source at China Hotel by Marriott, which has 1,013 rooms in the heart of Guangzhou, no specific measures from the local health bureau have been forwarded to the hotel management. However, since the Sars outbreak in 2003, the Marriott's regional headquarters have issued an emergency plan in case of a new pandemic. The plan deals with precautions in housekeeping and the food and beverage department.

The management of the hotel is adamant that no such plan is in action at present. The hotel has no record of unusual cancellations of bookings, and occupancy rates should remain well above 80 per cent in the coming months, according to its projections.

The Garden Hotel, another well-known and popular upmarket hotel in Guangzhou, is expecting a surge in bookings in the coming weeks. According to a manager at the hotel, no emergency plan has been communicated by city officials and the hotel management sees no reason for concern as occupancy rates have surged to 95 per cent this month and no cancellations have been recorded for the fair period.

The situation appears to be well under control and this should reassure newcomers in the booming hotel industry in Guangzhou.

The Portman Ritz-Carlton group has one of the most ambitious projects in Guangzhou with a new hotel due to open early next year.

Michelle Wan, director of communications for the group, said the company maintains regular consultation with the hygiene and tourism bureau on safety measures.