Air Disaster: Haze hits holiday bookings

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The haze has hit tourism and the effects could last into the peak Christmas season, travel executives said yesterday. Western tourists have already begun cancelling visits to the region's pleasure spots and more cancellations are likely.

"We have cancellations today," said Frederik Kapitan, managing director of Nusa Ina Reizen, a Dutch company operating tours in Indonesia. "We don't know when the haze will lift and until that time all the tours will be in flux," he said.

Besides the health risks, many flights have been cancelled or delayed because the smog has reduced visibility. Both Britain and the United States have cautioned against travel to the region because of the smog.

"It's really hit the fan," said Hugo-Ernst Stinnes, an executive for STR Distribution Promotion, a company which promotes South-east Asian tourist destinations from Germany. He said Germany's ARD television channel aired a programme on the smog this week, and he had been the effects could be disastrous.

"No one is differentiating between different places in Indonesia, they think it's all on fire."

"It's all a question of perception," said Ken Bates, of Thomas Cook Holidays. "We are getting a lot of calls from anxious clients who have heard of the smog in the region. Even though the impact on numbers is still minimal, it's a major ecological and public relations disaster."

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar business in South-east Asia and there were fears that the effects of the smog could hit the prime Christmas season. "If the smog continues, it will definitely be a problem for Christmas." said Mr Stinnes. "But obviously we hope they will fight the fires and things will normalise."