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Tuesday morning travel notes

Posted by Paul Makishima, Globe Assistant Sunday Editor  April 28, 2009 09:46 AM

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Clearly, concerns over the outbreak of swine flu will affect the travel plans of Americans but Jenn Abelson and Rob Gavin have a story in this morning's Globe about how it will affect the state:

The bruised US economy, which had shown a few signs of life, took another beating yesterday with global concerns over the swine flu outbreak expected to hit travel and tourism the hardest.
The virus, which has sickened people across the United States and Europe and resulted in 149 deaths in Mexico, prompted the European Union's health commissioner to advise Europeans to avoid non-essential travel to Mexico and parts of the United States.
The warning yesterday could have a devastating effect on New England, where 95 percent of overseas travelers come from Europe.
Patrick Moscaritolo, chief executive of the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau, said just a 10 percent drop in travelers to New England would mean a loss of more than $60 million, but it is too early to predict the fallout. The bureau had already expected a 5 percent to 9 percent drop in travel to New England because of the sour economy.
Travel and tourism business is one of Massachusetts' key industries. It is the fifth-biggest in terms of employment with 300,000 workers, according to the US Department of Labor.
The flu outbreak, coming weeks before the busy summer travel season, is another setback for the struggling travel industry, which was expecting the volume of total overseas visits to the United States to fall 3.1 percent from last year, according to the US Travel Association, an industry trade group.
Several airlines are waiving fees for passengers who were scheduled to fly through certain cities in Mexico and want to change their tickets.

And here's a quick look at how the rest of the world is responding:

* The World Health Organization raised its alert level over the swine flu outbreak but stopped short of declaring a global emergency. The United States advised Americans against most travel to Mexico and ordered stepped up border checks in neighboring states. The European Union health commissioner advised Europeans to avoid nonessential travel both to Mexico and parts of the United States. The WHO raised the alert level to Phase 4, meaning there is sustained human-to-human transmission of the virus causing outbreaks in at least one country. Its alert system was revised after bird flu in Asia began to spread in 2004, and Monday was the first time it was raised above Phase 3. Putting an alert at Phases 4 or 5 signals that the virus is becoming increasingly adept at spreading among humans. That move could lead governments to set trade, travel and other restrictions aimed at limiting its spread. Phase 6 is for a full-blown pandemic, characterized by outbreaks in at least two regions of the world. It could take four to six months before the first batch of vaccines are available to fight the virus, WHO officials said. Russia, Hong Kong, and Taiwan said they would quarantine visitors showing symptoms of the virus amid global fears of a pandemic, an epidemic spread over a large area, either a region or worldwide. (AP)
*US hospitality companies shut a number of facilities in Mexico and relaxed cancellation policies, as they scrambled to respond to the flu outbreak. Starbucks Corp closed 10 stores in Mexico City and Six Flags Inc closed all its Mexico City theme park indoor facilities in the wake of the swine flu outbreak. Some US airlines and hotels began allowing passengers to change itineraries to Mexico. Brinker International, which operates restaurants including Chili's Grill & Bar, said several franchisees have responded to the Mexican government's recommendation that citizens avoid public places by voluntarily closing their restaurants or limiting hours of operations. Carnival Corp, the world's largest cruise ship operator, said in a statement that it will not be making any adjustments to its itineraries. Delta Air Lines saw no impact on its operations but said it was allowing customers to make a one-time change for free for travel plans to Mexico. UAL Corp's United and US Airways Group Inc also said they were allowing travelers to change itineraries for destinations served in Mexico. Starwood Hotels and Resorts said it was waiving penalties for customers canceling or changing reservations at its owned and managed properties in Mexico for arrivals between April 25 and May 6, 2009. (Reuters)


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