Economic Effects of SARS May Outlive Disease

The threat of severe acute respiratory syndrome may have passed, but its specter remains, and guest house and hotel managers in Siem Reap say they don’t expect to recover their businesses any time soon.

SARS infected more than 8,000 people—killing more than 800 of them—but its greatest effect was on the tourism and travel industries, as people worldwide be­came fearful to fly through or to SARS-tainted regions. Asean countries, Hong Kong and China have all been taken off the World Health Organization’s travel advisory for the illness, and the numbers of visitors to Cambodia has started to climb slowly.

In a survey filled out by 49 hotel and guest house mangers in Siem Reap late last month, a large majority said they expected the effects of SARS to “fade away” in three months to a year. The managers told a team from the Me­kong Private Sector Devel­op­ment Facility, which helped es­tablish an association of guest houses and hotels in Siem Reap and issued the survey, that they were also generally “confident” business would improve.

Hotel managers were more optimistic than guest house owners, however, about how soon the bus­inesses would return to normal. Thirty-three percent of hotel man­agers said they felt the effects of SARS would fade in the next three to six months, and another 44 percent of them said it would take between six months and a year.

Only 39 percent of guest house managers said the situation would return to normal in six months to a year. Forty-four percent of them said it would take more than a year for their businesses to recover from SARS damage.

SARS was first identified in February, and the fear of the pneumonia-like disease rocked the world’s travel industries like a hurricane. The numbers of visitors to Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor plunged.

During that time, managers said in the survey, businesses survived by cutting prices, beefing up advertising, organizing package tours, or reducing operating costs—either by laying-off staff or limiting the numbers of functional floors.

Managers said the majority of their slumping business had been the result of SARS fears, but they also said the US war in Iraq and the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots had also had an impact.

The survey was issued to 12 of Siem Reap’s 120 guest houses and more than half of the 57 hotels in town.

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