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MANILA, Philippines – While no official ban on travels to the Philippines has actually been announced by the Chinese government, the tourism industry is bracing for the worst amid persistent talk that the Chinese may continue cancelling their bookings until October.
The blow to tourism, coupled with reports of tighter restrictions on Philippine agricultural exports, appear to constitute the soft aspect of China’s countermoves as the word war between the two Asian neighbors escalates following the month-old standoff over fishing rights in Panatag Shoal, or Scarborough Shoal off Zambales province.
Beijing denied at the weekend it was increasing combat-readiness for an escalation of the conflict, which it refuses to elevate to a global tribunal, while bristling over the multicountry protests against “China’s bullying” organized by Filipino groups last May 11 in nine countries.
Meanwhile, non-military moves like the tourism cancellations are seen in some quarters as part of Beijing’s continuing response.
“Word has it that [tourism] cancellations may reach until October,” an informed source told InterAksyon.com today. Since last Wednesday, sources in the tourism industry said they have been told by their Chinese partners that a more permanent travel ban will soon be issued by the Chinese government. (See “China travel ban to Philippines imminent?” on May 10, 2012.)
So far, the Department of Tourism said only 1,500 Chinese tourists have scratched their trips to the Philippines, even as tensions continued to mount in Scarborough Shoal, an area claimed both by the Philippines and China.
Other markets eyed
But an agency official said they would work “triple time” to promote the Philippines in other markets, to fill the gap created by the Chinese.
DOT Assistant Secretary Eugene Kaw told InterAksyon.com that the reported cancellations from China “represent 70-80 tour groups…until the first week of June. Most affected are Boracay, Cebu, and Bohol hotels/resorts.”
Among these are the Henann Resorts Group, which owns the Boracay Regency Beach Resort & Spa, the Regency Lagoon Resort, Boracay Garden Resort, and in Bohol, the Henann Resort at Alona Beach.
Isabel Garcia, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Boracay Regency, confirmed that “10-15 percent of our daily arrivals was affected by the travel ban.”
Earlier, Shangrila’s Boracay Resort and Spa also confirmed cancelled bookings from China.
Noemi Garcia, tourism officer of the Clark Development Corp. in Pampanga, said they have yet to receive data on hotel cancellations in the economic zone. But she indicated that Fontana Leisure Parks & Casino could be the “most affected,” as it caters to a significant Chinese market.
Cebu Pacific last week announced a suspension in its twice-weekly charter flights from Shanghai to Clark effective May 12. Other carriers that suspended their charters from several points in China were Zest Airways and AirPhil Express.
Kaw said the DOT will shift gears to further promote the Philippines to other markets like Taiwan, Singapore, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Malaysia “which have registered significant numbers and double-digit growths for the first quarter of 2012.”
It is also eyeing India as a rich source of tourists, as soon as visa reforms are finalized. The Department of Foreign Affairs is reportedly working on allowing more classifications of Indian nationals to apply for visas on arrival in the Philippines.
Kaw described the cancelled Chinese bookings as “an obstacle we have to overcome. It’s just a temporary setback and we cannot let it derail our momentum. China’s important but it’s just one of the 12 key markets of the Philippines. The success of Philippine tourism cannot be dependent on one market alone.”
But he stressed that there was still no official travel ban from China. “So far, everything has been verbal only by the China National Tourism Administration to the travel agencies handling Chinese tour groups to the Philippines. Nothing written yet…. Hopefully everything will normalize sooner than expected.”
DOT still optimistic
The DOT was still optimistic that the country would hit its targeted 4.6-million tourist arrivals for 2012, despite the continuing tensions between the two countries, Kaw said.
“We hope that friendly relations with China will continue. We shall allow the diplomatic channels to sort the matter out,” he said.
In the first quarter of 2012, tourist arrivals in the Philippines reached a record-breaking 1.15 million, up 16 percent from the same period last year.
Its top 10 tourist markets for the first three months of 2012 were: Korea with 265,031, accounting for 23 percent of market share; the United States, with 179,561 (15.6 percent); Japan, 104,558 (9.11 percent); China, 96,455 (8.4 percent); Taiwan, 57,745 (5 percent); Australia, 7,651 (4.2 percent); Canada, 36,517 (3.2 percent); Singapore, 35,975 (3.1 percent); UK, 31,700 (2.8 percent); and Hong Kong, 28,800 (2.5 percent).
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