Chinese tourists in South-east Asia/March of the Middle Kingdom - Philippines

Beaches are tops

A boat at the dock in Palawan Island, which is located in the Philippines.
A boat at the dock in Palawan Island, which is located in the Philippines. PHOTO: PALAWANISLAND.ORG

Visitors from China are giving Asean countries a tourism boost, travelling to Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. What's the draw for them? The Sunday Times takes a look

Chinese tourists have been flocking to the Philippines in recent years, their appetite for beaches, history, shopping and gambling trumping their anxiety over a territorial row between Manila and Beijing.

They come here on commercial flights from Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong. Direct charter, short-term and ad hoc flights, meanwhile, bring tourists from Tianjin, Chongqing, Chengdu, Hefei, Fuzhou and Nanning.

Their favoured destinations are resorts in Palawan and Boracay, and historical sites, golf courses and casinos in Manila and in two other cities, Cebu in central Philippines and Laoag, north of the capital.

They stay for eight nights on average, and spend about 11,000 pesos (S$310) each shopping for anything from apparel to jewellery - never mind that many of the items they buy are made in China. Beach destination Boracay alone draws 136 charter flights from China a month, bringing in over 24,400 tourists.

With new, warm ties between President Rodrigo Duterte and China, a boom in tourist arrivals is expected this year. Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said the number of Chinese applying for tourist visas to the Philippines has more than tripled from 400 to 1,400 a day since Mr Duterte's state visit to China last October.

 

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua expects the figure to hit a million by the year end. That will make China the Philippines' No. 2 source of tourists. It is currently No. 3.

Over 630,300 tourists from China visited the Philippines from January to November last year. South Korea topped the list, with some 1.3 million criss-crossing the archipelago, followed by the United States at 771,800.

Since the tourism department began its "It's More Fun in the Philippines" campaign in 2012, the number of Chinese visitors has jumped from 252,279 that year to 426,352 in 2013, thanks largely to new regular and chartered air services and increased cruise itineraries.

In 2014, following a travel advisory issued by Beijing over a plot to bomb the Chinese Embassy in Manila, Chinese tourist numbers dwindled to 394,947. But by the end of 2015, the number had climbed back up to 490,841, and then hit a record 630,327 as of November last year.

Chinese tourists spent a total of 10.1 billion pesos in the Philippines in 2015. That is still a long way off from how much the Koreans spent - 66.5 billion pesos - but not very far off from the Japanese at 12.2 billion.

Investment house CLSA said while it may be "naive" to assume that Chinese tourist arrivals to the Philippines could rival those of Thailand, which gets about eight million Chinese tourists a year, "the potential to grow here is higher than in most other countries". Mr Duterte's overtures to China could soon reap great rewards.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 26, 2017, with the headline 'Beaches are tops'. Print Edition | Subscribe