Non-Chi­nese trav­el­ers also stay­ing away from PHL amid virus out­break

Business World - - Front Page - By Ar­jay L. Bal­in­bin Re­porter

JENNY, a 31-year-old Filip­ina who works as a cook in South Korea, can­celed a plan to visit rel­a­tives in Cota­bato City this sum­mer amid a coro­n­avirus dis­ease 2019 (COVID-19) out­break that has killed more than a thou­sand people and sick­ened tens of thou­sands more in China.

“I have to be con­fined at the Seoul Na­tional Univer­sity Hos­pi­tal for two weeks when I re­turn to en­sure I don’t have the virus,” she said via Face­book Mes­sen­ger chat. “I don’t want to go through that has­sle.”

Tourists not just from China and its ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gions, but from all over the world have can­celed their trips to the Philip­pines be­cause of the virus scare, ac­cord­ing to Jose C. Cle­mente III, pres­i­dent of the as­so­ci­a­tion of lo­cal travel agen­cies.

About 10% of his com­pany’s two mil­lion book­ings out­side China as of Feb. 3 had been scrapped, he said by tele­phone.

Still, he thinks it could have been worse. “Can­cel­la­tions from other mar­kets, es­pe­cially the Western mar­kets have not been as much as we had an­tic­i­pated,” said Mr.

Cle­mente, who is also pres­i­dent of Ra­jah Tours Philip­pines, Inc.

Tourism Sec­re­tary Ber­nadette Fa­tima T. Ro­mulo-Puyat has said the in­dus­try could lose P42.9 bil­lion from February to April — P16.8 bil­lion this month, P14.11 bil­lion in March and P11.98 bil­lion in April.

Roberto Lim, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor and vice-chair­man of the Air Car­ri­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of the Philip­pines, Inc. (ACAP) said they ex­pect to lose about P3 bil­lion from ticket re­funds in the next two months af­ter the Philip­pine travel ban on China and its ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gions.

The Philip­pines has three con­firmed cases of COVID-19, in­clud­ing one death, all in­volv­ing Chi­nese na­tion­als. More than 400 people have been checked for in­fec­tion, more than half of whom had been con­fined, ac­cord­ing to health au­thor­i­ties.

The gov­ern­ment wants Filipinos to visit lo­cal spots in the face of an in­ter­na­tional tourism de­cline be­cause of the out­break.

LOW RATES

No less than Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo R. Duterte is join­ing the do­mes­tic travel cam­paign by vis­it­ing Bo­ra­cay, Cebu, and Bo­hol.

Travel oper­a­tors are try­ing to en­tice the mar­ket with lower rates for lo­cal des­ti­na­tions, while ho­tels and restau­rants have cut rates by up to 50%, ac­cord­ing to the Tourism de­part­ment. Air­lines will also offer lower fares.

The Tourism Congress of the Philip­pines (TCP) said as much as 40% of Bo­ra­cay flights were can­celed since the Philip­pine travel ban on China, Ma­cau, and Hong Kong was im­posed early this month.

Marites Lopez, a 32-year-old en­trepreneur from Sul­tan Ku­darat who ac­cepts on­line travel book­ings through the Uni­fied app, said she had only one client this year — a Filipino worker from Saudi Ara­bia.

Travel in­quiries from Sin­ga­pore and Tai­wan did not ma­te­ri­al­ize, she said via Face­book Mes­sen­ger chat.

“It’s very dif­fi­cult be­cause the sit­u­a­tion is very alarm­ing es­pe­cially with talks that the new coro­n­avirus is air­borne,” she said. “I have lost a lot of sales be­cause of that.”

The Health de­part­ment has said there is no ev­i­dence yet that the virus could be trans­mit­ted through the air, cit­ing the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Mr. Cle­mente said the in­dus­try should find ways to at­tract for­eign vis­i­tors amid the coro­n­avirus scare.

“We will def­i­nitely con­tinue mar­ket­ing to our tourism mar­kets and we will do our best to offer more palat­able rates,” he said.

“We will con­tinue im­pos­ing the guide­lines and other health pro­ce­dures im­posed by the De­part­ment of Health, De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion and all other agen­cies,” he added.

For­eign ar­rivals reached 7.4 mil­lion in the 11 months to Novem­ber last year, 15% higher than a year ear­lier, ac­cord­ing to data from the Tourism de­part­ment.

The agency said last month it tar­gets to at­tract 9.2 mil­lion in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tor ar­rivals this year.

“We may have to re­visit that fig­ure, de­pend­ing on how long this sit­u­a­tion per­sists,” Mr. Cle­mente said.

Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary Karlo Alexei B. No­grales cited the need for a “catchup plan” to meet tourism tar­gets in­stead of re­vis­ing these now. “It’s too early to re­assess the sit­u­a­tion. Re­assess­ment will prob­a­bly hap­pen af­ter the sec­ond quar­ter.”

Aside from Western tourists stay­ing away from Asian des­ti­na­tions in­clud­ing the Philip­pines, some lo­cal trav­el­ers have also can­celed their trips over­seas.

“Filipinos planning to travel abroad have ex­pressed con­cerns about their travel plans and some of them have al­ready can­celled or re­booked their flights,” Charo Log­a­rta-Lag­a­mon, a spokesper­son for bud­get car­rier Cebu Pa­cific, said by tele­phone.

“We are hop­ing that we could damp down the ef­fects of the coro­n­avirus out­break,” Mr. Cle­mente said. “We hope a vac­cine will be found soon.”

Lau­ren Glover, a Bri­tish English teacher in her late 30s who plans to visit the Philip­pines, is keep­ing an eye on the sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try.

“If the Philip­pines gets more con­firmed cases, I will def­i­nitely not be going there any­time soon,” she said in a chat mes­sage.

PAS­SEN­GERS wait at the de­par­ture area of the Ni­noy Aquino In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Manila, Feb. 5.

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