MANILA, Philippines - Philippine Airlines (PAL) yesterday revealed that more than 500 tourists from Hong Kong and China have cancelled their bookings with the country’s flag carrier.
PAL president Jaime Bautista said the country has probably not yet seen the worst of repercussions from Monday’s hostage-taking incident that left eight Hong Kong tourists dead.
“PAL is beginning to feel the initial impact of a Hong Kong government advisory warning its residents to refrain from all travel to the Philippines. As of Wednesday, our Hong Kong station reported that at least 558 Manila-bound bookings were cancelled. The bookings consisted of tourists from Hong Kong, Beijing, Xiamen, and other points in China,” Bautista said, adding that two Hong Kong and Macau-bound Filipino tourists also opted to change their destination in view of the current situation.
He revealed that 90 groups cancelled from Hong Kong and Manila to Kalibo. The cancellations cover over a one-month period.
Hong Kong accounts for around six percent of PAL’s revenues while the United States is still the single largest source at 25 percent.
PAL carried about 155,000 passengers from Hong Kong and around 200,000 from China last year.
Only a handful of Hong Kong nationals were spotted at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) terminals yesterday, a stark contrast to the almost 70 percent arrival recorded prior to the bloody incident.
Hong Kong issued a top-level “black” travel alert to the Philippines, urging its nationals to avoid traveling to the country.
Bautista said it was too early to say whether the cancellations would impact on the airline’s bottom line but company officials were closely monitoring the situation in Hong Kong, where angry residents are still mourning those who perished in the carnage.
Despite the negative travel advisory, Bautista said PAL would, for the time being, continue to run daily flights to and from Hong Kong, where as many as 200,000 Filipinos live, many of them working as maids.
“We’re closely monitoring the situation and will decide soon whether we will maintain or reduce flights,” he said. “We share the grief and understand the Hong Kong people’s wrath. We are optimistic that fears of traveling to the Philippines will be temporary,” he added.
Bautista said they have yet to determine the financial impact of the booking cancellations at this early stage although he estimates the losses to be around $150,000 for PAL.
He, however, admitted that the negative travel advisories to the Philippines are not helping the flag carrier, which is currently struggling financially and grappling with restive workers.
“We understand that Philippine officials in Hong Kong met with the latter’s legislative and travel councils and assured them that the Philippines is still a safe and viable tourist destination. We are looking forward that it will soon lead to the lifting of the travel restrictions,” he said.
Bautista said that PAL, as the national flag carrier, will continue with its sworn mission to promote the Philippines as a tourist addition, even as he added that the company will try to help in its small way to improve the capability of Filipino law enforcers.
The Philippine Tourism Authority, on the other hand, expressed concern that Monday’s events would lead to a drop in tourists coming to the country, but had no specific data about any cancellation by tour groups.
Tourism industry sees glimmer of hope
However, despite the negative travel advisory, tourists from Hong Kong and other countries are still set to visit the country soon, according to Ikebana International.
Ikebana International yesterday reported that about 300 tourists from Hong Kong are coming to the Philippines to attend the 11th Asian Regional Conference in Manila.
Evangeline Cheng, Ikebana International-Manila chapter president, said foreign delegates, including those from Hong Kong, have not signified plans to cancel their scheduled visit to Manila in September.
“We also have confirmations of attendance by delegates and guests from Japan, India, Taiwan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, the United States, Germany and Italy,” Cheng said.
Cheng expressed hope that the conference would “somehow help create better understanding,” particularly between the Chinese residents of the former British colony and the Filipino people.
President Aquino is expected to grace the opening of conference, the country’s first major tourism event since his assumption to office.
Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim as well as tourism industry officials previously said that the Luneta carnage would adversely affect the country’s tourism, but it is still expected to recover eventually.
Set back temporary
Hong Kong businessman Victor Chan, owner of Home Depot, said that “although the situation now has worsened” after Monday’s tragic hostage incident, he is confident that “it is only temporary.”
A resident of Manila for over 35 years, Chan said he has never had any problem with security or doing business in the country, and pointed out that such unfortunate incidents happen all over the world, “even in Hong Kong and China.”
He said that an open and transparent investigation into the incident, with “no more cover up, no matter what,” would go a long way in restoring the confidence not only of the people of Hong Kong but all visitors and businessmen, in the country.
Monitoring yesterday’s Senate hearing, Chan noted that police officers sometimes avoided answering questions directly.
“They should be open, and admit if they are wrong – they did not do it intentionally, but they have to admit when they are wrong.” - Rudy Santos, Mayen Jaymalin