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MANILA, Philippines – It may be worse than we thought. In the latest development seen as part of the continuing fallout from the maritime spat between Manila and Beijing over Scarborough Shoal, cancellations by Chinese tourists on trips to the Philippines have already reached until January 2013, according to a regional tourism official.
In a text message to InterAksyon.com, Atty. Helen Catalbas, officer-in-charge for Region 6 (Western Visayas) of the Department of Tourism said: “as of 4 p.m. (on May 14), 163 AAA and AA rooms have reported cancellations of Chinese bookings and one AAA resort have 230 cancelled room nights from July 2012-January 2013.”
She declined to estimate how large a dent these cancellations would have on the overall tourist arrivals in the island, but said her office was still monitoring the situation in Boracay, one of the country’s biggest tourism draws because of its vaunted lovely beaches.
“It’s too early to say how this large a percentage drop would be in the second and third quarter,” she said, adding that “we hope this is just temporary and will work harder to get increased arrivals from other major markets to fill in the losses.”
According to the latest DOT data on distribution of regional travelers to the Philippines, there were 38,579 Chinese who visited Region 6 in 2010. Western Visayas ranked third in the list of the most popular tourist destinations for Chinese tourists, after the National Capital Region, and Region 7 (Central Visayas).
Earlier, tourism sources intimated that the unofficial travel ban by Chinese tour agencies to the Philippines may last until October. (See, “PH tourism sector braces for extended China 'travel ban',” in InterAksyon.com, May 13, 2012.)
Other provincial resorts and tourist destinations hit by the unofficial travel ban from China tried to play down the cancellations of bookings by their guests.
In Cebu, Agnes Pacis, director of Sales and Marketing of Shangrila’s Mactan Resort and Spa confirmed “[receiving] inquiries from clients regarding the issue, as well as requests for postponement of bookings.”
She added, however, that China is “only one of our many feeder markets and we remain confident that the effects, if any, will be temporary and that our overall business will not be adversely affected.”
In Clark, Pampanga, Noemi Garcia, tourism officer of the Clark Development Corp., said there were 5,889 Chinese travelers who arrived at the economic zone from January to March 2012. The market represented less than one percent of the total tourist arrivals in Clark for that period, which numbered 110,114.
The Chinese rank fourth in terms of foreign tourist arrivals, after Koreans (15,672); Malaysians (9,630); and Americans (5,917).
As of April 2012, Garcia said 60 Chinese tourists checked into the Holiday Inn, Hotel Vida, and Monte Vista Villas. She, however, failed to include check-ins at the Fontana Leisure Parks & Casino, which she earlier said had accounted for the bulk of Chinese tourists in the ecozone.
Manuel Sequiera, general manager of Fontana, declined to comment on cancelled bookings.
On May 12, Cebu Pacific suspended its charter services between Shanghai and Clark after its Chinese charter agent cancelled its bookings. The service was supposed to last until September 2012. (See “China travel ban to Philippines imminent?” in InterAksyon.com, May 10, 2012.)
DOT data in 2010 indicated that the most popular destination for the Chinese market is still the National Capital Region, which includes Metro Manila, at 80,926; followed by Region 7 (Central Visayas), which includes Cebu and Bohol, at 62,097.
Botched Luneta rescue: first blow
The first time Chinese bookings were cancelled en masse was in the aftermath of August 23, 2010, when a botched rescue by Philippine authorities resulted in the deaths of a busload of Chinese and Hong Kong tourists taken hostage by a disgruntled ex-policeman at the Quirino Grandstand.
Tourism industry sources pointed out that while initial dips in arrivals from both countries were recorded a few months after the incident, tourists from China still grew by 12 percent to 222,704 in 2010 from 198,835 in 2009.
Tourism industry professionals have said that while the Chinese tourists still represent a small market for the Philippines, they have been growing significantly over the years at double-digit rates. As such, the market had been targeted for major marketing promotions to help the Philippines reach its targeted 10 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2016.
In the first quarter of 2012, Chinese tourists represented the fourth largest market for the Philippines, at 96,455. This was a significant 77.53-percent increase in arrivals compared to the 54,332 in the same period in 2010.
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