Envoy: Despite latest Ayungin case, Chinese tourists will come


THE Chinese government is looking forward to more of its citizens visiting the Philippines and does not think the recent incident in Ayungin Shoal will affect the tourism cooperation between both countries.

At the ceremony welcoming the arrival of 189 tourists from Xiamen on Tuesday at the Naia-terminal 1, Chinese Ambassador to Manila Huang Xilian told reporters, “Of course, we expect to have more Chinese tourists to this country …. As I always said, it’s normal to have some differences between neighbors and the differences should not be in the way of our cooperation and people-to-people exchanges. On the contrary, we hope that more and more people-to-people exchanges will contribute to mutual trust, and to interact without the kind of risk of misunderstanding.”

On January 9, a vessel of the Chinese Coast Guard reportedly shooed away Filipino fishers around Ayungin Shoal, which the Department of Foreign Affairs stresses is part of the Philippines’s exclusive
economic zone.

Group tours start February 6

Huang added that both countries are working to restore the number of Chinese tourists to the Philippines to pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, mainland China was the second largest source of tourists for the Philippines, accounting for 21 percent or 1.76 million of the total 8.26 million arrivals that year.

The Philippines, said Huang, is one of  20 countries where the Chinese government has allowed its citizens to travel internationally via group tours. Starting February 6, group tours will also be allowed to Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Russia, Switzerland, Hungary, New Zealand, Fiji, Cuba, and Argentina. Surveys show, however, the Philippines failing to spark a high interest as a tourism destination among mainland Chiense. (See, “PHL fails to make Chinese travelers top 10 wish-list,” in the BusinessMirror, January 25, 2023.)

The ambassador did not address BusinessMirror’s question on the lack of reciprocity in terms of arrival procedures, as Filipinos, whether vaccinated or not, are required to take an RT-PCR test 48 hours prior to departure for China. The Philippines, on the other hand, only requires unvaccinated international  travelers to take a Covid antigen test. Huang merely said, foreign tourists no longer need to quarantine upon arrival in China, and both foreigners “including Chinese nationals [have] to take a PCR test.”

Tuesday’s batch of Chinese tourists who arrived via Xiamen Air MF819 are believed to be traveling onward to other local destinations to enjoy their Lunar New Year vacation. In a Viber exchange with Xiamen Air’s general manager for Manila Yan Tan, he said, “The final destination [of said tourists]  cannot be seen in our system, and they may buy tickets from different airlines in stages…. But according to our understanding, may tourists will look for opportunities to explore the beautiful Philippines, such as Boracay and many other beautiful tourist attractions.”

Huang himself was a recent visitor to Boracay, where he conducted an ocular inspection to check on the island’s readiness to receive Chinese tourists.

Health risks

Meanwhile, the Department of Tourism (DOT) tried to allay health concerns from the arrival of the Chinese tourists, many of whom are believed to be unvaccinated, one of the reasons Covid cases continue to spread there. No official data specifies the number of vaccinated Chinese citizens.

“Whether it’s Covid-19, or any other virus or illness, health concerns are quite common in any country, including the Philippines. The important thing is that our government continues to observe minimum public health standards, at the same time, ensuring that we are able to strike a balance between protecting the public health as well as promoting livelihood, considering all the losses that have ensued since the pandemic,” said Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco.

She said existing protocols in place regarding the arrival of foreign travelers continue to be observed. “We continue to convey the Philippines’s readiness to receive Chinese tourists and foreign nationals from all over the world, as the effort really is to help our fellow Filipinos regain the losses that  they’ve had and suffered through the difficult times of the pandemic.”

The DOT has set a goal of some 4.8 million international travelers arriving in the Philippines this year.