MANILA, Philippines – Hotels and resorts in Boracay, Cebu and Bohol are reporting cancellations in bookings from China, as tensions continue between Manila and Beijing over Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Cebu Pacific, Zest Airways and Airphil Express suspended their charter services to and from several destinations in China on May 12, in the wake of the canceled trips by Chinese tourists.
Isabel Garcia, Boracay Regency Beach Resort Spa’s director for sales and marketing, confirmed to the BusinessMirror that “10 percent to 15 percent of our daily arrivals were affected by the travel ban.”
She said this covered the Henann Resorts Group that includes the Regency Lagoon Resort in Boracay as well as the Boracay Garden Resort and Henann Resort at Alona Beach in Bohol.
Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort and Spa also confirmed canceled bookings from China.
In a text message, Patti Javier, the hotel’s director of communications said, “Yes we have [received booking cancellations from China].” She, however, added that she did not have any information on how large the cancellations were.
But according to Eugene Kaw, assistant secretary of the Department of Tourism (DOT), the cancellations reported to them only represented 1,500 persons “until the first week of June. Most affected are Boracay, Cebu and Bohol hotels/resorts.”
Separately, Noemi Garcia, tourism officer of Clark Development Corp. in Pampanga, said they still had to get detailed reports from hotels in the economic zone.
But she said Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino would likely be “most affected” by the canceled bookings from China. Fontana officials could not be reached for comment as of press time.
The DOT called the cancellations an “obstacle that we will have to overcome” and a “temporary setback” that should not “derail our momentum” in marketing the country to foreign tourists.
Kaw said, “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.” He added that the DOT is “optimistic that despite the situation with China,” it will still reach its targeted 4.6-million visitor arrivals in 2012.
Meanwhile, Candice Iyog, spokesman for Cebu Pacific, also told the BusinessMirror that the airline’s charter company in China “just informed us about cancelling the charter, but did not give us a reason.”
She declined to identify the charter company.
The twice-weekly charter service, between Shanghai and Clark, started in December 2011, and “was supposed to run for nine months,” or until September 2012.
The airline flew a 150-seat Airbus 319-100 for the service and was “averaging 90 percent” of the seat capacity, Iyog said.
Art Alejandrino, a board director of Zest Air, also confirmed that their twice-weekly charter flights from Shanghai to Kalibo, Aklan, have been suspended since Saturday.
Also, he said, their thrice-weekly charters from Jinjiang province to Manila, which started in April 26, have been suspended. “It would have been daily flights starting June 26.”
He added that the Shanghai-Cebu, and Beijing-Kalibo charter flights were also supposed to start June 29.
“It was a business decision on our end, to suspend those charters. If there is no demand, we can’t fly those planes. But I think this situation [between the Philippines and China] is temporary. I can understand why they had to cancel,” Alejandrino said.
Zest Air uses 180-seat Airbus 320s for its charter flights. Alejandrino said they had an “average passenger load of 90 percent” for those charters.
Airphil, meanwhile, said it was also “temporarily suspending our charter flights due to the advisory from China.”
An airline source added, “We hope this is temporary. We’ll probably resume our flights when the dust has settled.”
In a fax “emergency notice” to its travel agents dated May 9, a copy of which was obtained by the BusinessMirror, the Beijing Xinhai Charterer said, “Due to recent emergency situation between the Philippines and China, and for the security of passengers, Flight 2P-826/2P-825 [Peking, China-Kalibo, Philippines and vice versa] will be stop effective May 12, 2012. Resume of flight will be base on the situation [sic].” 2P is the airline code of Airphil.
On May 10 several Chinese travel agencies were reported to have suspended trips to the Philippines on safety concerns of its clients, anticipating the political and civil-society organizations’ protest action against China the next day.
Tensions between the Philippines and China were re-ignited last month when the Philippine Navy tried to prevent Chinese fishing vessels from fishing in the Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc). China thereafter sent “government vessels” to the area. The standoff continues with the two countries’ vessels refusing to budge from their positions.