Bus hijacking alerts Chinese tourists

At the observation deck overlooking the perfectly shaped mounds known as the Chocolate Hills overlooking Bohol Island in the central Philippines, Korean is the foreign language most often heard.Two weeks after eight Hong Kong hostages were killed during a botched rescue attempt by police in the capital city of Manila, Chinese tour groups have all but vanished from various tourist destinations around this archipelago nation.

In a span of an hour, only one couple from Beijing and another from Hong Kong could be heard hiking up the 214 steps for a panoramic view of the mountains that are reminiscent of chocolate kisses.

More than 1,000 package tours from Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland have been canceled since the violent standoff, the Philippine Department of Tourism Undersecretary Simeon Marfori said during an industry forum in Guilin earlier this month.

The consequences will be losses of more than $200,000 to the Philippine tourism industry – which is expected to sustain losses of more than $500,000 over the next three months, sources told China Daily at the beginning of September.

The Hong Kong SAR government issued a “black travel alert”, while the central government has advised caution to its citizens bound for the Philippines.”The National Day golden week (Oct 1-7) is finished – no hope at all. Hopefully business can rebound by Chinese New Year,” said Zhu Lili, a travel agent with Beijing CTS South Asian View.

Liu Xin, Southeast Asia general manager of China CYTS Outbound Travel Service, happened to have a group of 22 arriving in Manila on Aug 23 just as the tragedy was unfolding.In fact, the group was staying in the same hotel as the hostages. And when reporters swarmed into the hotel for interviews, the unwitting tourists were at a total loss.

“But our Beijing staff had called up everyone’s family member to inform them that they were okay,” said Liu. The group proceeded with their trip as scheduled, but later tours from Beijing were all called off.

Under the circumstances, travel agencies gave full refunds to their customers, even though they may yet sustain losses from not being able to cancel connecting domestic flights. “Most international airlines were very understanding,” however, said Liu.

There are still sporadic package tours from Shanghai and other southern Chinese cities. Most Philippine-bound tourists, however, have opted for other Southeast Asian destinations like Thailand or the Maldives.

Meanwhile, some agents who book tours to the Philippines are taking time off, while others have temporarily joined their colleagues in pitching other markets to beach-oriented customers.

Some admit their income will be negatively affected from the sudden cut-off of tourist traffic to their market.”China is the fastest-growing source of tourists for the Philippines, with 155,000 tourists last year, and the annual growth is 43 percent,” said Francisco Benedicto, the Philippine Ambassador to China.

Last year, according to the website of the Philippines Department of Tourism, Chinese tourists – including those from Hong Kong, Taiwan and the mainland – made up 12.6 percent of the Philippines’ total inbound tourist volume.

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