KALIBO, Aklan , Philippines – The territorial row between the Philippines and China has taken its toll on Boracay Island, which lost around 200,000 Chinese visitors after travel agencies from Beijing suspended travel packages to Manila last May.
Aklan Gov. Carlito Marquez noted that Chinese tourists constitute around a fifth of the visitors of the world-famous tourist spot.
“The ban imposed by China was a setback somehow,” Marquez told reporters in a press conference here last Thursday.
“Some carriers had to cancel flights. We lost a big chunk (of visitors). The Chinese represent 15 to 20 percent of tourists,” he added.
Marquez said about 986,000 visitors passed through their province’s ports last year. Hotel bookings, however, reached about 1.2 million as it included those who did not travel by sea.
About 60,000 Chinese tourists visit Boracay every year through direct international flights from China.
Based on Marquez’s estimates, Chinese tourists who canceled their trips to Boracay numbered from about 180,000 to 240,000.
Marquez is hopeful that the dispute between China and the Philippines over the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal will be resolved peacefully.
“Nobody wants enmity. We want to coexist peacefully,” he said.
Last month, Chinese travel agencies suspended tourist packages to the Philippines amid a tense territorial row between the two countries over the Panatag Shoal.
Chinese travel agencies even promised refund to customers who have booked trips in a move viewed by some observers as a way to pressure the Philippines to yield to China’s position on the issue.
Known internationally as Scarborough Shoal, Panatag Shoal is located 124 nautical miles from the nearest base point in Zambales.
The area is within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone as provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
A standoff ensued on April 10 after Chinese maritime surveillance ships prevented the Philippine Navy from arresting Chinese fishermen who had engaged in illegal fishing and harvesting of endangered species in the area.
The Philippines has protested China’s action and has called for a rules-based approach to resolve the row.
China, however, insisted that it has sovereignty over the area even if it is a signatory to UNCLOS.
Beijing has also rejected efforts to involve the international community in the dispute, which has raised concerns among governments that are worried about its impact on freedom of navigation.
Both Manila and Beijing back peaceful means to resolve the row despite reports of bullying by Chinese ships of Filipino vessels and fishermen.
Latest surveillance reports from the Navy revealed that a total of 28 Chinese ships and boats are still in the shoal, 23 of them inside the lagoon of the disputed area.
Manila no longer has ships in the hotly contested area after President Aquino ordered two Philippine vessels to leave the shoal this month allegedly due to bad weather.
Ordered to return to port were a Philippine Coast Guard ship and a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessel which have symbolized the country’s claim over the area.
It remains unclear whether Malacañang would order a redeployment of Philippine vessels in the shoal.
Saturday, June 30, 2012
Boracay loses 200,000 Chinese visitors