PHL tourism businesses hoping to see more Chinese visitors 

By Brontë H. LacsamanaReporter

PRIORITIZING the Chinese tourist market, which has long been a major source of travelers for the Philippines, could boost the country’s tourism recovery, travel companies said on Monday.

These sentiments came after Tourism Secretary Christina G. Frasco called for the lifting of the visa cap on Chinese nationals after China dropped to seventh place as of March this year from being the Philippines’ second top market in 2019.

“We’re hoping [to see more] Chinese tourists… soon. Recently we haven’t had any clients from there yet, even though they used to be a major market for us,” said Cheryl Bueno, ticketing manager at Panda Travel Service, Inc., in Filipino via phone call.

Incoming traffic from China is critical for local travel agencies, hotels, and tour operators, she added.

Roberto Z. Zozobrado, president of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines, said that the hurdle to getting more Chinese back is the visa quota implemented by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

“Even if China has now opened their doors, the DFA is not issuing as many visas as we would want them to. They issue only a hundred visas a day to Chinese nationals,” he told BusinessWorld in a Viber message.

The Department of Tourism (DoT) aims to have two million Chinese visit the Philippines this year, which would require about 6,818 visas to be issued per day.

In 2019, there were more than 1.7 million arrivals from China, making up 22.2% of total arrivals to the country. This translated to about P2.33 billion in tourism receipts, according to DoT.

“The Chinese market is important for our tourism recovery because, when they’re here, they buy everything. They’re very big spenders. That’s the reason we’re trying to get them back,” Mr. Zozobrado said.

MUFG Global Markets Research said in its 2023 ASEAN tourism outlook report that China’s reopening is expected to boost tourism in Southeast Asia, especially in Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines.

“The boost from China will likely be significant and outweigh outbound travel,” it said. “The improvements from tourism, further boosted by travel from China, will likely benefit all tourism-related sectors.”

The research firm predicted gross travel receipts globally to increase this year to $6 to 8 billion, from just $4 billion in 2022.

Ms. Frasco said in a statement that the Philippines stands to lose over $2.51 billion in revenues if the difficulty in obtaining visas is not immediately addressed. She is in talks with the DFA to up the visa quota for Chinese nationals.

Meanwhile, the Philippine tourism industry has prepared long and hard for the rise in activity, according to Mr. Zozobrado.

“We were able to accommodate the surge of Chinese pre-pandemic. We’re equipped for it now. People are more aware of the importance of recovery efforts, be it large hotels or small and medium-sized enterprises, for both foreigners and domestic travel,” he said.