AN OFFICIAL of an organization of travel agencies in Cebu expressed “apprehension and worries” about how Monday’s hostage-taking will affect the country’s image and tourism industry.

Jenny T. Franco, president of the National Association of Independent Travel Agencies Cebu (Naitas), said she is worried the cancellation of bookings from tourists will snowball, starting today.

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The Chinese Consul General in Cebu condemned the violent hostage-taking in Manila last Monday and called on the National Government to thoroughly investigate it.

He Shijing, the People’s Republic of China’s consul general in Cebu, said he believes the tragedy was an isolated case, but also could not blame Hong Kong authorities for issuing a travel ban to ensure the safety of its citizens.

Shijing likened the tragedy to a terrorist act.

“We strongly condemn this very rude act by the policeman, who we can call like a terrorist... We request the Philippine Government to investigate this accident, and we also request the government to give a final report and an explanation of this accident,” he told reporters.

Hong Kong authorities immediately issued a black alert, warning against all travel to the Philippines, after dismissed policeman Rolando Mendoza held hostage a busload of Chinese tourists for nearly 11 hours. Eight of the hostages died, as did Mendoza.

Aside from Hong Kong, the governments of Indonesia, Thailand, Nepal, Iran, Pakistan and Russia also issued alert orders against trips to the Philippines.

Acting Director Rowena Lou Montecillo of the Department of Tourism (DOT) that from January to June, 13,646 tourists from Hong Kong arrived in Cebu. For the same period, 22,225 visitors arrived from the People’s Republic of China, the fourth largest group to visit Cebu this year.

“We need help from the national government, from the Department of Tourism. We need to do some PR here…This is not just a crisis in Manila, but a national crisis,” said Franco, who is also the president and managing director of Travel Vision.

Hiroshi Nakamura, who also works with Travel Vision, asked the police to maintain the generally peaceful situation in Cebu.

“Cebu has a very, very good image for the Japanese. It is peaceful,” he said. He suggested for the police to focus on the crackdown against loose firearms.

Interviewed separately, Shijing also called on government officials to come up with measures to guarantee the safety of tourists and foreign residents.

That the tragedy would affect tourism is inevitable, he said, but he is optimistic tourist arrivals will normalize when peace and order improves.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Cebu City Government organized a mass yesterday afternoon to pray for those who were killed in the tragedy. Flowers were offered and candles were lit at the Plaza Sugbo beside the Magellan’s Cross, one of the city’s tourist spots.

“We will just have to do our best in improving peace and order, disaster and calamity preparedness and quick response. We just have to continue to enhance our efforts to make tourists feel safe, secure and comfortable,” Mayor Michael Rama said.

On the travel advisory, Rama and businessman Alfredo Go of the Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry said they hope it will be lifted soon.

“As soon as the conditions and environment in the Philippines, including Cebu, improve, I think they will come again because the Philippines is a very ideal tourist destination for China, Hong Kong and Macau... We hope the situation, especially the peace and order, will get better in order to provide a safe and comfortable environment for tourists,” Consul Shijing said.

Like Shijing, Go said the incident should be treated as an isolated case, and that the Philippine Government should do something about it so the travel advisory can be lifted.

“It’s sad that it happened but we really need to move forward.

It happened already, damage has already been done. What we need to do is to not ignite it. We need to do a lot of homework because it’s really not good for our country,” the businessman added.

The Philippine Travel Agencies Association, in a statement, said: “Because of the incident, our country has suffered another setback in its drive to fully establish a tourism industry that can rival its neighbors.” (LCR/JTG/EOB/(Sunnex)