Less Fun In The Philippines After Taiwan Travel Alert

It’s more fun in the Philippines, as the country’s tourism slogan goes, but not if you’re doing business with Taiwan this summer. After the Philippine coast guard killed a Taiwanese fisherman on May 9, angry officials in Taipei issued a red travel alert on its maritime neighbor, no fun for airlines, hotels or travel agents.

This travel advisory doesn’t just mean the Taiwanese government suggests avoiding the place but won’t stop you from going if you want. The alert restricts business and slows a major campaign to advance the economy of a poor country.

Tourist traffic from Taiwan slumped 46% in May and 70% in June, Philippine government statistics show. Last year Taiwan was the country’s No. 4 source of tourism, and in the first five months of this year it contributed nearly 4% of foreign travel with 79,297 arrivals during that period. Top draw: beach resorts.

The advisory has barred tour agents from promoting Philippine travel, effectively grounding all charter flights from Taiwan to an airport near prime Philippine vacation island Boracay as well as to Cebu, a tourist hub and the third largest city. That has left 8,000 seats unoccupied per month since the advisory took effect May 15.

Last year, 92,029 Taiwanese visited Boracay alone, 19% of foreign arrivals to the isle’s white sand, palm-festooned beaches.

The vacant seats come from a combined 10 flights per week from Philippine Airlines, Taiwan-based China Airlines and one smaller carrier from each side. The charters opened as early as 2008 and filled 85-90% of their seats until mid-May.

Grounded charters in turn poisoned business for 50 travel agencies in Taiwan and eight more in the Philippines, according to stats from Manila’s side. About 30 hotels and resorts across the Philippines have reported cancellations of Taiwanese bookings.

“The cancellations of this charter caused big business loss to Taiwan agents and Philippine local agents alike, as well as hotels and resorts, since most of the booking had been confirmed already and deposit had been made specially approaching summer holiday,” a Philippine Department of Tourism representative says for this blog.

Manila’s global more-fun-in the-Philippines campaign saw the party pause in early 2012 when China, the country’s fourth largest market with 163,879 arrivals from January through May, suspended tours over a standoff at the disputed Scarborough Shoal west of Luzon. Arrivals from mainland China are climbing again this year.

Taiwan’s travel advisory came with seven other economic sanctions, including a freeze on labor imports. Taiwan says it will lift all the sanctions if the Philippines apologizes more profusely for the fisherman’s shooting death, compensates the slain man’s family, brings the shooter to justice and starts fishery talks with the Taiwanese who are just 250 kilometers away. Because of that distance, the two sides’ ocean claims overlap – a possible reason factor in the shooting.

Officials in Taipei are waiting as Philippine President Benigno Aquino III reviews an investigation report on the May 9 incident and decides what to do about its findings.

“As of now we are still hoping that this travel advisory will be lifted at the soonest time possible as most Taiwan agents selling the Philippines are still interested to promote the country in Taiwan,” the tourism department representative says.