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Cruise lines stick with Mexican stopovers

Written by editor

Airline and tourism stocks have been hit by fears that the swine flu outbreak will force consumers to scale back travel plans, but the cruise industry says it hasn’t cancelled any calls in Mexican por

Airline and tourism stocks have been hit by fears that the swine flu outbreak will force consumers to scale back travel plans, but the cruise industry says it hasn’t cancelled any calls in Mexican ports.

WestJet Airlines Ltd. fell 5 per cent, tour operator Transat A.T. Inc. tumbled 10 per cent and Air Canada’s regional affiliate, Jazz Air Income Fund, slid 5 on Monday morning.

The Canadian companies were part of a global trend that saw Asian and European airline and tourism shares decline on concerns about dampened travel amid the spread of swine flu.

Stuart MacDonald, who founded in 2000 and is now president of cruise vacation site, said no cruise lines had altered their itineraries as of mid-day Monday.

“Port calls in Mexico continue,” Mr. MacDonald said, adding that cruise operators are continuing to monitor events to see if they warrant any formal travel advisory.

“It’s worth noting that cruise lines are among the best in the travel industry when it comes to monitoring and controlling illness and outbreaks, as they are used to dealing with contagions aboard,” he said. “Hand sanitizers are everywhere, and crew keep an eye out for ill passengers who may well be contacted by the ship’s doctor and quarantined to their cabin if they are unwell.”

On Sunday afternoon, Air Canada said it will waive change fees for passengers with reservations to and from Mexico City up to this Thursday, and WestJet followed suit Sunday night with its decision to not charge customers who change or cancel flights to and from Mexico until the end of April.

Versant Partners Inc. analyst Cameron Doerksen said some consumers will reconsider their trips to Mexico in the short term, but he noted that the peak winter travel season is over for holidays to sun destinations.

While it’s too early to determine the impact on Canadian carriers, the epicentre of the swine flu outbreak is in Mexico and not at Air Canada’s hub in Toronto, which got hit by the SARS outbreak in the spring of 2003, Mr. Doerksen said.

“Toronto was a SARS hot spot, but that’s not the case with this swine flu outbreak,” he said.

Air Canada shares were flat at 80 cents, while the airline’s parent company, ACE Aviation Holdings Inc., recovered to post a small gain after its shares shed 5.5 per cent when the Toronto Stock Exchange opened.

“SARS was much worse on Air Canada than what we’re seeing here,” Mr. Doerksen said.