Travellers told to avoid plague centre: Health concerns pose threat to country's tourist industry. Will Bennett reports

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The Independent Online
SOME British travel operators yesterday cancelled tours to India and others admitted that travellers were pulling out of trips because of fears about the spread of pneumonic plague.

Thomson, Britain's biggest travel company, announced that it was scrapping four tours to India over the next two weeks while another operator, Hayes and Jarvis, has cancelled its Mogul Tour to the north of the subcontinent.

Although the number of tourists involved is quite small, the plague is a serious threat to India's tourist industry, which last year was worth nearly pounds 1bn and was the country's third largest foreign exchange earner.

Russia has ordered all tourist and business trips to India to be suspended; some Asian nations have banned flights to India; and other countries have warned people to avoid areas where the plague has struck.

Thomson said: 'We took the decision in tandem with our tour agents in India, who also work for other European travel operators. These companies, in Germany and Scandinavia, have stopped their tours too.'

The cancelled tours would have taken about 60 people to the Taj Mahal in Agra and to Bombay and Delhi, where cases of plague have been reported. However, beach holidays in Goa, which usually do not involve travel outside the area, will continue.

Hayes and Jarvis of London, which has cancelled its Mogul Tour for two weeks, will continue its other trips to India but will avoid all areas where the plague has been reported.

The tour operator Kuoni, which specialises in trips to India and the Far East, will continue with all its touring holidays, including those to Agra, Bombay and Delhi, but admitted yesterday that some people had cancelled. John Sim, public relations manager, said that out of about 160 people due to go to India in the next week, 24 had cancelled and another 14 had decided to take alternative tours.

Foreign Office advice is that travellers should not go to the state of Gujarat, where the outbreak started. A spokesman said that elsewhere there was no cause for concern although people 'should avoid crowded public places where possible'.

Alarmed at the threat to tourism, the Indian government yesterday appealed to airlines to resume flights and operators not to cancel trips. Swarn Singh Boparai, director-general of the Ministry of Tourism, said that the plague represented only 'a small problem'.

British Airways has not cancelled flights and said that it would continue flying from London to Delhi and Bombay. It said: 'We have asked our crews to be extremely vigilant and see if people display any suspected symptoms.'

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