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Manila eager to see return of travelers

By PRIME SARMIENTO in Manila | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-01-14 07:25
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Philippine agricultural produce on display during an expo in Shanghai. [Photo by Zhang Wei/China Daily]

China's decision to ease its travel restrictions under its optimized COVID-19 strategy is expected to boost the Philippine tourism industry, as the Southeast Asian nation welcomes the return of one of its biggest sources of visitors.

Prior to the pandemic, China was the second-largest travel market for the Philippines, where tourist arrivals from China hit 1.74 million in 2019. Industry stakeholders noted that China is not only the source of huge numbers of travelers, but also high-spending ones. Chinese tourists spent $2.33 billion in 2019, the Philippine Department of Tourism said.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, in his Jan 8 interview with China Central Television, invited Chinese tourists to visit the Philippines again "and in even bigger numbers".

Chinese tourists are widely welcomed because they have strong buying power, said Francis Chua, chairman emeritus of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, alluding to how China's fast-growing economy has raised the standard of living of its populace. He cited how Thailand's ministers personally welcomed Chinese tourists as they arrived at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport on Jan 9.

"If only we can attract (more) Chinese tourists, it will be a big help to the Philippine economy," Chua said.

John Paolo Rivera, associate director at the Dr. Andrew Tan Center for Tourism of the Asian Institute of Management in Manila, said the "magnitude and coverage" of the Chinese market is significant to the Philippine travel and tourism industry.

"We can't undermine the contribution of Chinese tourists as far as expenditures are concerned," he said.

After China decided to change its COVID-19 measures, Rivera expects that demand for luxury goods and entertainment in the Philippines will likewise go up, as many Chinese tourists go to the Philippines to shop for luxury items. He said a growing Chinese tourism market can lead to a "speedy recovery" of the industry.

Rivera added that the Philippines' tourism cooperation pact with China, signed on Jan 4, will boost the tourism sector's contribution to Philippine GDP.

Under this five-year cooperation program that was signed during Marcos' state visit to Beijing, China and the Philippines have agreed to encourage and support the exchange of their respective administrators and tourism professionals to strengthen mutual development in hotels, resorts, cruises, ports, tourism products, and other related industries and competency standards.

Sustainable industry

"Also, among the salient points of this implementation program is to advocate the best practices and knowledge in sustainable tourism, which includes the promotion of eco-friendly products and services. We will also encourage investments in tourism infrastructure and support tourism enterprises of both countries to cooperate in the development of tourism projects in accordance with the current laws and regulations in each other's countries," Philippine Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco said.

Frasco said she is "grateful for China's commitment and interest" in partnering with the Philippines. She expects the cooperation program to "generate massive employment opportunities and investments across all sectors of tourism".

Carmina Romero, corporate communications director at Cebu Pacific, said the Manila-based budget airline is "cautiously optimistic" about the return of Chinese tourists to the Philippines.

"But any expansion (in the number of Chinese travelers) will be dependent on approvals from authorities on both sides. Hopefully, things will become clearer during the first quarter of 2023," she said.

Prior to the pandemic, Romero said China accounted for 9 percent of the carrier's international capacity.

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