The impact of China’s decision to suspend tourism to the Philippines would be negligible, the largest travel-industry group in the country said Thursday.
“Yes, Chinese tourist arrivals to the country have grown by double digits. But to put things in perspective, China is only one of the Philippines’ many target markets,” Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) president Aileen Clemente said.
“Our top three markets remain Korea, United States of America and Japan,” Clemente said.
Following reports that large Chinese tour operators had decided to stop selling packages to the Philippines—the latest of Beijing’s moves to force Manila to back down on their monthlong standoff over Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea)—the PTAA issued a statement saying that although tourist arrivals from China had risen significantly in the last five years, the traffic was relatively small.
Fourth largest market
The Department of Tourism (DOT) reported earlier this week that China was the country’s fourth-largest tourist market, with 96,455 arrivals in 2011, an increase of 77 percent from 54,332 in 2010.
South Korea remained the biggest tourist market for the Philippines, with 265,031 arrivals in the first quarter of this year, an increase of 16 percent from 228,398 arrivals in the same period last year. The figure represents 23 percent of all tourist arrivals from January to March.
The total tourist arrivals reached 1.15 million during the first quarter, putting the Philippines on track to meet its goal of drawing 4.6 million tourists this year.
The PTAA indicated that China was still an important tourist market. It said that while China’s absence would not derail the country’s tourism industry, losing any market would certainly not help in attaining the government-set goals.
No official word
The PTAA said, however, that it had not received word of official cancelations as of Thursday. Clemente said the association was closely monitoring the situation.
“While we wish that the circumstances were different between the Philippines and China, [we] are still hoping for the best that this situation about Scarborough Shoal will be resolved at the soonest possible time,” Clemente said.
In Malacañang, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the government had not yet received official information about the suspension of Chinese tours to the Philippines. Without official information, Lacierda said the Palace would not comment.
China also decided to increase inspections on fruit imports from the Philippines, which combined with the decision to suspend tourism, appeared to a bid to use economic pressure to end the standoff over Scarborough Shoal.
China’s food safety watchdog has ordered stiffer inspections of banana, pineapples and other fruits imported from the Philippines. The agricultural sector is about 12 percent of the Philippine economy, but the impact may be small as China is not a primary market.
Malacañang played down the relation of the increased inspections to the Scarborough dispute. Lacierda said the inspections were “a purely technical matter.”
Lacierda said the Department of Agriculture, through the Bureau of Plant Industry, was dealing with China’s problems with Philippine fruits.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) appeared not convinced that China had ordered the suspension of tourism to the Philippines. It said Thursday that the reports about the suspensions could be “disinformation.”
In a text message to the Inquirer, Raul Hernandez, DFA spokesperson, said the department was “checking on the veracity of the report.”
Hernandez noted that Manila had “agreed with Beijing that the West Philippine Sea is not the sum total of our relations.”
“We are, in fact, celebrating the Years of Friendly Exchanges to enhance the incredible people-to-people ties between our two countries,” Hernandez said.
“The Philippines remains a safe and welcoming country,” Hernandez added.
“We, as a matter of fact, are working on easing visa requirements for Chinese nationals,” he said. With reports from Philip C. Tubeza and Norman Bordadora