China virus grounds Boracay parasails as tourism braces for impact

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 31 2020 10:09 AM | Updated as of Jan 31 2020 10:15 AM

Establishments catering to Chinese tourists along Boracay's white beach is shown in this file photo. The Philippines is bracing for the tourism impact of the novel coronavirus in China, its second biggest tourist market. Ivy Jean Vibar, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA -- Fewer tourists are taking flight over Boracay Island's white sand strip as a lockdown in China slashed demand for water sports, highlighting how the outbreak of a new coronavirus strain threatens tourism.

Water sports businesses lost 60 percent of their income since the outbreak began late last year, some losing up to 600 customers per day, said Russell Cruz, president of the Boracay Watersports Association.

"It greatly affects us," Cruz told ABS-CBN News by phone.

"Kung dati umo-order ka ng Double Black, Emperador ka muna (When before you order Double Black, you make do with Emperador for now)," likening his colleagues plight to a shift to brandy from expensive whisky.

Group members plan to lessen working days to cut costs and avoid layoffs, he said.

The Philippines on Thursday confirmed its first novel coronavirus case, a female Chinese tourist from Wuhan, where the pathogen was believed to have originated. President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday temporarily banned travelers from Hubei province, where Wuhan is located.

Watch more in iWant or TFC.tv

The World Health Organization declared a global emergency over the virus, as the death toll in China topped 200 and the number of cases approached the 10,000-mark.

In Subic Bay, cruise liners Costa Crociere, Royal Caribbean and Genting temporarily suspended operations between China and the Philippines, Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority Chairman and Administrator Wilma Eisma said on Tuesday.

"The coronavirus is creating quite a significant impact not only in the Philippines but across ASEAN nations, and we can even say globally," said Ritchie Tuano, president of the Philippine Travel Agencies Association.

"Pinag-uusapan namin diyan is how to counter yung impact ng cancellation ng Chinese tourists," he told ABS-CBN News.

(We are now discussing how to counter the impact of the cancellation of Chinese tourists.)

'GROWING FEAR'

While not as badly hit as Boracay, in neighboring Bohol, there is a "growing fear" of staying in airports or terminals, Bohol Provincial Tourism Council chairman Doy Nunag said in a separate interview.

Some beachfront resorts saw a 5 to 10 percent drop in bookings after reports of the disease surfaced, Nunag said.

"We are very, very concerned din kasi fluid pa ang situation. I think we haven't seen the worst yet," he said, noting that medical experts have yet to find a cure for the virus.

"So far, we are holding up, but talagang maghihigpit ng sinturon (we need to tighten our belts)," he said.

Tourism officials have considered advertising the Visayan island destination to the European or South Korean markets to offset losses from China's lockdown, but the industry remains "cautious," Nunag said.

"It's too soon to be advertising that we are safe from the epidemic," he said.

Most hotels decided to waive cancellation or rebooking fees as a goodwill gesture to tourists, Nunag said. Leniency on cancellation requests helped the province's tourism industry cope after the 2013 Bohol quake and a terrorism scare in 2017, he said.

Some 1.25 million Chinese tourists arrived in the Philippines in 2018, making China the second largest tourism market for the Philippines, next to South Korea.

The Philippines will "keep promoting to other markets that are not yet affected by the virus," Department of Tourism spokesperson Benito Bengzon Jr. earlier said.

"Ang priority natin is safety and well-being ng mga turista at locals."

(Our priority is the safety and well-being of tourists and locals.)