MANILA (AFP) – Tens of thousands of Chinese tourists have cancelled trips to the Philippines after a travel warning by Beijing, inflicting major pain on hotels, airlines and tour operators, industry figures said Tuesday.
China warned its citizens this month to avoid visiting the Philippines, citing a foiled bomb plot against the Chinese embassy in Manila and the danger of criminal gangs.
The alert had an immediate impact on the Philippines’ most famous destination, Boracay island, with nearly 20,000 Chinese tourists cancelling bookings within five days, regional tourism director Helen Catablas said.
“This is serious. The hotels were counting on income from these reservations. It’s like money disappeared,” Catablas told AFP, adding the cancelled bookings led to about 500 million pesos ($11 million) in losses.
The country’s biggest budget carrier, Cebu Pacific, said it had cancelled 149 flights to and from China for the rest of the year because of the sudden drop-off in demand.
Regional carrier AirAsia also said it had indefinitely suspended its twice-weekly flights between Kalibo airport, one of the main gateways to Boracay, and the Chinese financial hub of Shanghai.
On Boracay, famed for its powdery white sand and calm blue waters, the biggest ferry and bus shuttle service said it had lost a third of its average 150 passengers daily.
“We are very far from Manila, but we are the ones getting hit. The government must address China’s security concerns and assure them there’s no problem,” said Bonnie Javelona, operations manager at Southwest Bus Tours.
Before the travel warning, China was the Philippines’ third-biggest market for tourists after South Korea and the United States.
Chinese tourist arrivals in the first half rose 13.6 percent to 226,163, according to government data.
Many foreign governments warn their nationals to avoid large parts of the southern Philippines due to the threats of kidnapping.
But no other government has issued a travel warning for the entire country.
China’s warning has been interpreted by some politicians and tourism officials in the Philippines as an attempt to exert economic pressure over a long-running territorial dispute in the South China Sea.