Fears about the spread of human swine flu have forced American, British, German, Mexican and Finnish exhibitors largely to forgo next week's International Travel Expo, according to the exhibition organiser. The absence of exhibitors from these major, long-haul tourism markets, which have reported cases of A(H1N1), is a significant setback for the expo this year. 'The impact of the human swine flu outbreak has been quite big because corporate budgets were already frozen as a result of the global financial crisis,' said Tong Kam-shing, managing director of organiser TKS Exhibition Services. The four-day expo begins on June 11 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. There are about 600 exhibitors this year, down from 655 in 2008. The local travel trade is bracing for a tough summer, although there are some early signs of improvement in outbound tourism. For much of last month, travel agents booking air tickets and overseas tours did half as much business as last year, said the executive director of the Travel Industry Council, Joseph Tung Yao-chung. 'The situation in May was very bad,' he said. 'We are hoping that the drop will narrow in June, maybe to about 20 per cent, and go down to less than 10 per cent in July. If that's the case, we can live with it.' The council was planning to promote inbound and outbound tourism with popular regional markets, including Taiwan, Thailand, Japan and the mainland, to help boost business, Mr Tung said. Mr Tong said that so far, the number of overseas buyers who had pre-registered for the expo indicated a drop of about 10 per cent year on year. There were a total of 12,900 buyers at last year's expo, with about 30 per cent coming from overseas. The number of local buyers might also fall as more trade visitors opted to wait until the last minute before committing, he said. The organiser sponsors between 200 and 300 buyers to attend the expo each year. But Mr Tong is hopeful the number of public visitors will rise at least 10 per cent this year after slashing the admission price by half to HK$15 on June 13 and HK$10 on June 14. The first two days of the expo are only open to trade visitors.