SARS: Good news and bad

NEW YORK -- It was two steps forward and one step back as Hong Kong and the Guangdong province in China were released from the SARS stigma and Toronto again was touched by it after seeming to be in the clear.

Officials at Tourism Toronto said the "Time for a Little T.O." recovery promotion -- launched only four days before the World Health Organization (WHO) issued an alert about more suspected cases in the city -- will continue with its special rates at hotels and attractions. However, television and print advertising for the campaign will be put on hold until Toronto is again free of SARS alerts.

"It didn't make sense to advertise on TV when there are these notices," said a spokeswoman for Tourism Toronto. "When the [SARS] numbers are down and the hospitals are back to normal, we'll see ads."

Bruce MacMillan, CEO of Tourism Toronto, emphasized that the notices do not warn against travel.

He said, "The WHO and [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] notices said that health officials do have it under control. We've entered into the same precautions we put in place last time, which resulted in controlling the outbreak."

Toronto received support from the National Tour Association, whose board of directors decided to hold its annual meeting in the city in September.

NTA president Hank Phillips said, "While [tourism] can be turned off in the blink of an eye, it takes a concerted and collective effort to turn it back on."

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Tourism Board is gearing up its recovery campaign after months of negative publicity put the clamps on inbound tourism.

"We're very happy we can move on with our plans," said Lily Shum, director of the Americas for the board. "We have a very aggressive plan in place to work with our partners to reverse the downward trend."

Hong Kong tourism officials will meet with travel agents and tour operators in Los Angeles June 24, San Francisco June 25, New York June 26 and Chicago July 9.

According to a spokeswoman from the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, Hong Kong plans to ask the Chinese government for $780 million to fund a campaign to relaunch Hong Kong's economy, much of it targeted toward the suffering tourism sector.

The China National Tourist Office is waiting until warnings are removed for the entire country to launch its own campaign.

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