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Nancy, tourism players, DOTr: Tighten border controls for Chinese tourists in PHL

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THE country’s premier group of tourism stakeholders has called on the government to step up its arrival protocols for inbound Chinese travelers so as not affect the growth in tourists from other markets.

Similar sentiments were aired by the Transportation secretary and the head of a Senate panel overseeing the tourism sector.

Department of Transportation Secretary Jaime J. Bautista said he’s in favor of imposing Covid measures including testing on inbound travelers from China, mulling similar plans by the US amid a rapid rise in infections in the mainland as Covid Zero restrictions are lifted, according to a Bloomberg report.

“We should be very cautious because if they have a lot of Covid cases, we should be careful about Chinese visitors coming into the Philippines,” Bautista told reporters Wednesday. Bautista said he supports testing visitors coming from China, but not banning them.

Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) President Jose C. Clemente III told the BusinessMirror, “With the current situation in mainland China, we would recommend elevated entry requirements for tourists coming to the Philippines. There should be pre-testing before departure and upon arrival, then quarantine if found positive.”

He explained, “We are already enjoying robust arrivals and any disruption due to a possible resurgence of the virus may set us back. Prudence is a must.” He noted the strength of the Canadian and European markets since the country reopened its borders to leisure travelers on February 10. Data from the Department of Tourism (DOT) showed Canada arrivals at 113,776 and the UK at 95,388 from February to December 22. Germany and France were also among the top source markets for tourists at 36,487 and 22,656, respectively.

Prepping for Lunar New Year

With Beijing’s recent announcement of relaxed international travel procedures, a number of markets are tightening their borders to protect the health of their own citizens, as international news reports point to a surge in Covid infections in China. Japan, for one, will be requiring Chinese tourists to take an antigen Covid test upon arrival, and quarantine if found positive. India and Malaysia are also instituting similar requirements. The United States is considering stricter arrival protocols as well, claiming the lack of transparency in China’s Covid data. The Philippines has yet to announce any travel rules for arriving Chinese tourists.

For her part, Senator Nancy Binay also suggested caution on government’s part when receiving Chinese tourists, stressing, “safety should always be the priority. We expect an influx of Chinese tourists over the Chinese New Year holidays beginning January 22. As much as possible, we don’t want to discriminate tourists who want to visit the Philippines, but Covid cases in China have spiked to over a million already, and without the necessary border controls, incoming flights from the Mainland may trigger a surge of Covid cases in our country.”

She pointed out, “Traveling is still a major virus carrier, and as a default policy, we can still implement the ‘Test Before Travel’ rule, which requires all visitors from Mainland China to have a negative RT-PCR result 48 to 72 hours prior to travel.”

Cleofe Albiso, managing director of Megaworld Hotels and Resorts,  recommended a balanced approach: “We all have had enough of the agony of having to address the Covid pandemic in the past couple of years. We will really appreciate it if the Philippine government  can have stepped-up requirements in the arrival of Chinese tourists or travelers from any country that still pose high count of infections.”

Impact on tourism recovery

SHE said, “We can do this in the interim and have transition plans if numbers and cases show any decrease or levels that are not alarming. We recognize the need for more foreign tourists to come and support our destinations in the goal of business recovery in the coming year, but we also need to do this with caution so we do not have to go back to square one in this journey.”

Before the pandemic, China ranked as the second top source for tourists, with arrivals reaching 1.74 million, accounting for 21 percent of the 8.26 million tourists in 2019. The market also contributed US$2.33 million in visitor receipts that same year.

DOT data showed total arrivals reaching 2.51 million from February to December 22.

Of the total, 1.9 million were foreign tourists, while 610,362 were overseas Filipinos. Arrivals from China were 37,377, putting the market on 11th spot. Although Beijing has banned outbound leisure travel except to its territories, Macau and Hong Kong, said arrivals from China in the Philippines could be business travelers, according to the DOT.

Beijing claims 90 percent of its citizens are already vaccinated against Covid-19.

However, infection continues to spread as international news organizations report hospitals in China choking from increasing Covid patients and lack of adequate medical personnel.

Other local stakeholders group, meanwhile, welcomed the reopening of China’s borders. (See, “Eased Beijing travel rules PHL tourism players,” in the BusinessMirror, December 28, 2022.)

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