Concerns about travel to the Philippines have resurfaced after widely reported events including the Abu Sayyaf beheading of a German traveller last month and the withdrawal of a communist rebel group ceasefire in late January.
Following the beheading, Germany issued a travel advisory against the Philippines affecting Boracay, Palawan and Mindanao, said Jose Clemente III, president of Rajah Tours Philippines.
An indignant Clemente said: “Relatively, crimes against tourists are quite low in the Philippines... What they don’t tell you is he was in a place he shouldn’t have been. He was warned, but he still went there, is it really (the Philippines’) fault? We feel it’s unfair that we seem to be singled out.”
But the damage to tourism has already been done.
Matthias Rotter, managing director of Dertour and Meier’s, told TTG Asia that bookings for the Philippines are not coming in due to the incident being given a full play in the evening media.
Rotter said all Asian destinations for Dertour and Meier’s, including Thailand, Vietnam, Bali, Japan and China, are looking healthy. The only exceptions are the Philippines due to the incident and negative image, and Malaysia, which is suffering from Malaysia Airlines’ decision to axe direct Frankfurt flights.
Meanwhile, Philippine media reports last month that president Rodrigo Duterte's declaration of the end of a ceasefire against communist rebel group New People’s Army, active in several parts of the country including Luzon and Mindanao, are only fuelling jitters.
But Clemente said while there have been “some sporadic (terror) incidents”, these took place outside the main tourist areas.
In response, the DoT stated: “The authorities have reassured us that the Philippine military and security forces have mounted massive pursuit and sweep-up operations against a ragtag criminal group operating in remote Mindanao areas and sea border territories… The Duterte administration has intensified its campaign against criminality resulting in significantly lower crime incidence.”
To reverse any impact on tourist arrivals, a spokesperson said the department will organise fam trips for German media some time this year.
In the wake of these events, travel agents in the country expressed that they continue to take the safety of customers very seriously.
“The same applies for travel into and out of the Philippines – when there are threats, we are prompted by red alert and communicate the information to guests straight away,” assured Michael Kipping, sales manager at Marsman Drysdale.
The agency also takes steps to minimise risk and respond to crises. “We only work with DoT (Department of Tourism) accredited hotels, vehicles, etc,” said Kipping.
Rajah Tours writes to clients to address points made in advisories and give them the agency’s take on the situation, Clemente shared.
“We are on the ground so we know exactly what’s going on. We have to be honest, if we don’t recommend certain areas, we’ll make that known. (But if) a single place is singled out when there’s nothing going, we state that too,” he said.