Can Hong Kong travel warning jeopardize Philippines tourism ambitions


(eTN) – The violent ending of tourists kidnapped in the center of Manila by a former police officer could seriously damage the image of the Philippines as a travel destination. Eight of the Hong Kong residents were killed and two others seriously wounded during the assault on the bus where they were kept as hostages. The violence surrounding the end of the kidnapping prompted the government of China’s Special Administrative Region to issue a Black Alert for any Hong Kong travelers desiring to go the Philippines, the highest possible level in the SAR.

The Black Alert indicates that a severe threat exists with travel to the destination to be avoided. Already, all tour groups still staying in the Philippines will be repatriated from today. Hong Kong scheduled a charter plane to carry back the families of the 21 Hong Kong tourists involved in the hostage drama.

How far-reaching will be the effect of the Hong Kong travel warning on tourists? For the time being, China did not issue a similar official travel warning. However, China Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi used very strong words to voice his concern to his Filipino counterpart Alberto Romulo. The Minister condemned sharply the killing by indicating he was “appalled” by the number of murders. The website of the Ministry posted a note on Monday night saying that “the Chinese government demands the Filipino government to launch a thorough investigation into the incident.” The strong words are now likely to also deter Chinese travelers for a while from visiting its southern neighbor.

Of the 3.02 million of foreign tourists coming to the Philippines in 2009, 122,785 were originated from Hong Kong, while 155,019 came from China PRC. Both markets represent roughly 9 percent of all international tourists into the country. From January to April, Hong Kong tourists to the Philippines continued to report strong progress at +10.1 percent. In 2009, China was the Philippines fourth largest inbound market and Hong Kong the sixth largest. The fact that the news of the hostage bloodbath swept all through media around the world will certainly have an impact during the next few months. It must now be seen how quick the Philippines Department of Tourism will react to launch a recovery program for the destination.

New Tourism State Secretary Alberto Lim indicated recently wanting to double revenues from tourism for the country within the next six years of President Benigno Aquino’s legislature. Total revenues for tourism reached only US$2.25 billion last year, six times less than in Thailand. Lim looks more for quality than quantity tourism and wants to promote nature destinations, as well as cultural heritage.