The flow of outbound tourists has almost come to a halt because people are afraid of contracting the A(H1N1) flu virus during travel.
"Tours to almost all overseas destinations have seen a big drop, though many of these places have not reported even a single case of H1N1 infection," Zhang Qingzhu, marketing manager of China Comfortable Travel Services, said in Beijing on Friday.
Group tours to Chinese mainlanders' favorite destinations such as Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, the US, Europe, Australia and Southeast Asia have dropped the most, she said.
"I can't think of any destination that has escaped the slump The decrease (in the number of tourists) is so shocking that I wouldn't like to give any figure," she said.
Xiao Hong, manager of Hong Kong tours with China Travel International, said the number of mainlanders signing up for tours to Hong Kong in the first two weeks of May, "has fallen by 80 percent".
Many tour agencies have cancelled group tours to the US, said Zhang Wei, manager of the China International Travel Service's outbound tourism department.
"Very few people now come to travel agencies to enquire about tours. And most of those that come want to either delay or cancel their trips," he said.
The sluggish business has given many travel agency employees a forced holiday. Shen Dahai, manager of Beijing-based China M&R Special Tours, said about 40 percent of his firm's tour guides and group leaders have no work because of the flu scare.
"Last May, our firm had to borrow tour guides and team leaders from other tour operators," he said.
People are afraid to travel abroad for fear of contracting the virus, Zhang Qingzhu said. "They're worried that taking a train or plane could expose them to danger. Their fear has hurt domestic tourism, too."
Zhang Qingzhu was referring to the two H1N1 cases on the mainland. One of the patients flew from Beijing to Chengdu in Sichuan province, and the other took a train from the capital to Jinan in Shandong province.
The two cases have forced health authorities to quarantine more than 200 people in Beijing.
Beijing resident Gao Jingying, 68, who changed her plan to visit Taiwan with her husband this month, said: "No one likes being isolated in a hotel for a week after returning from a trip that is supposed to be a happy experience."
Most industry insiders, however, said the H1N1 flu would not hurt tourism as much as SARS did.
"At least we are getting some business now. During the SARS outbreak, tour agencies had to shut down operations," said Shen, who has been in the business for two decades.
Li Xinjian, a professor in the School of Tourism Management of Beijing International Studies University, corroborates Shen.
Transparent government reporting on the H1N1 flu has helped tourists choose the right destinations, Li said, and they know what the safest places are.
Till Friday, the H1N1 virus had killed 71 people in Mexico, the US, Canada and Costa Rica.