by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) March 27, 2014
A major Chinese tour operator is breaking ties and cancelling bookings with Malaysia Airlines while another is seeing country reservations drop as travellers grow wary after Flight MH370's disappearance, state media reported Thursday.
China Youth Travel Service said it will suspend new bookings with the airline and change currently booked itineraries that include the carrier to alternative firms, the state-run China Daily newspaper said, quoting a statement by the agency which was founded by the Youth League of the ruling Communist Party.
"Considering the fact that a succession of accidents have involved Malaysia Airlines recently, and that Chinese tourists have concerns over the carrier's safety record, we must fulfil our responsibility of ensuring the security of our fellow citizens," the statement said.
The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 vanished on March 8 with 239 people aboard, deviating inexplicably off its intended course between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing and flying thousands of kilometres in the wrong direction. Two-thirds of the passengers were from China.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak said Monday that satellite data indicated the plane plunged into the sea in a region off western Australia, possibly after running out of fuel.
An intense, multinational operation for possible debris is ongoing, but the search was suspended Thursday due to bad weather.
Until now the flow of Chinese tourists to Malaysia has been accelerating -- hitting 1.8 million last year in a 15 percent annual increase -- making the Asian power the country's third-biggest source of visitors, behind only Singapore and Indonesia.
On Monday a Malaysia Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Seoul diverted to Hong Kong due to electrical problems, the carrier said, adding to the company's publicity troubles.
"Now the biggest concern of our tourists to Southeast Asia is whether they will fly on Malaysia Airlines," the China Daily quoted a tour manager at a travel agency in the eastern province of Jiangsu as saying.
"Some consumers even are willing to pay more money to book other airlines rather than going with the cheaper tickets offered by Malaysia Airlines."
According to Chinese state media, Malaysia's image as a tourist destination has suffered as well as that of its flag carrier.
State-owned China International Travel Service has seen a sharp decrease in people registering for tours to the country, the China Daily quoted a publicity officer as saying.
And, an Internet survey by Sina.com, a leading Chinese news portal, found that 77.7 percent of 59,582 respondents said the missing plane incident would "affect their going to Malaysia for tourism".
MH370 mystery complicates last rites for the missing
The flight carried passengers from around the world following a number of major religions, and the failure to achieve closure via last rites has added to the anguish of grieving relatives.
Hindus traditionally perform special prayers on the first, 16th and 30th day after a person's death.
"I will not do any solemn prayers until I am really convinced my son is dead," said Subramaniam Gurusamy, 60, a Malaysian Hindu whose son was on the plane.
"How can we say everyone is dead when we have not found the plane or the black box?" he added, referring to the trove of on-board flight data that is being sought for clues to what happened.
"There have been instances when someone is lost in the jungle and is believed to have died but comes out alive after many years."
The Malaysia Airlines flight went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8. Malaysia believes it crashed in the southern Indian Ocean but no wreckage has yet been found, despite an ongoing multi-nation search.
Jamil Khir Baharom, Muslim-majority Malaysia's minister in charge of Islamic affairs, was quoted by local media as saying Muslims aboard MH370 were still seen as "missing", and that proper funeral rites cannot be performed until the search is called off.
Hindus were being advised, however, to "accept fate" and go ahead with their prayers, said Mohan Shan, president of Malaysia Hindu Sangam, the country's main advisory body on Hindu worship.
"They can't do the funeral rites until they get the bodies. But they can perform prayers at home or in temples on the 30th day," he said.
"It's a difficult time to pass through. Without the body we cannot 100 percent confirm they are dead. But we have to ask them to accept the fate. There is no point in waiting."
Usually in a deadly accident, Taoists must perform funeral rites at the site where the death occurred, said Tan Hoe Chieow, president of the Federation of Taoist Associations Malaysia.
But he said due to the unprecedented nature of MH370, families could go ahead with such ceremonies elsewhere, perhaps in their homes.
"We hope they can come to terms with this unfortunate incident. They have to come to terms with the reality. Some are still holding on to hope," he said.
"In this particular disaster I don't think it's possible to retrieve the bodies."
Christians also could lay their loved ones to rest without a body if they are convinced they died, said Reverend Wong Kim Kong, a Christian community leader.
"They should not be discouraged, but acknowledge the fact that their loved ones are in a better place, that is -- heaven," he said.
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