THE Manila hostage crisis is beginning to take its toll on the tourism industry.

Reports that many tourists have cancelled their vacations or have cut short their stay in the country, members of the Tourism Congress said that as the country is trying to regain the trust of other countries, government should put in place crisis public relations (PR) management mechanisms.

Post your reaction to the Manila hostage crisis

A crisis PR plan that can address and manage the aftermath of the incident has to be created immediately, in light of the black alert travel advisory that Hong Kong government issued recently, the Tourism Congress said in a statement.

It said security of tourists visiting the country should now become top priority.

Like the rest of the world who watched on television how the 12-hour hostage taking unfolded, the group gave a piece of its mind about how government forces handled the situation.

It too, said that some steps undertaken led to the collapse, not only of the negotiations but the country's image to the whole world.

In the trying to salvage the country's image, the Tourism Congress said the death of eight innocent people as well as the hostage taker must not be dismissed as an "isolated incident."

"The eyes of the world were upon us and brushing this off as just an isolated incident will not reverse the strong imagery of shattered windows, police with their guns drawn, hapless victims covered with blood being loaded into ambulances," the group said.

"This hostage situation manifested how ill-prepared we are in handling crisis like this. The victims were tourists-foreign nationals we in the tourism industry are working so hard to invite to our country because their arrivals translate to many benefits for the Philippines," the group added.

Likewise, the group lamented the absence of high-ranking officials.

Had they been present at the scene, the group said "the world could have seen a visible, strong and calming presence of a high-ranking official directing the actions. They should have seen us helping the victims ensuring their comfort post-incident, commiserating with their families-even apologizing to them for this unfortunate incident which nobody wanted to happen. They should have seen us taking care of them. Sadly, these did not happen, at least not visible enough from where we were standing."

In social networking sites and even by expert commentators, the President Benigno Aquino III himself was criticized for watching at the sidelines while the assault team grappled what to do next.

The President and other people involved in the bungled negotiation have repeatedly apologized to the Chinese government and families of the victims.

The Philippine government also communicated with the Chinese government to send a team of experts to discuss the hostage taking, but as of press time the latter has not committed its willingness to meet with RP representatives.

Finally, the Tourism Congress called on government leaders to be deliberate in their actions and exercise prudence in their statements. "We cannot afford to be seen as indifferent, even callous to the situation our visitors found themselves in. We must take steps to ensure that this will not happen again."

The Tourism Congress is a private sector consultative body tasked under the Tourism Act of 2009 to assist the government in the development, implementation and coordination of the Philippine Tourism Policy.

It represents over 65-member associations. These member associations count at least 3,000 enterprises as their members.

The Hotel and Restaurant Association of Baguio (HRAB), Baguio Conventions and Visitors Bureau (BCVB), Baguio Flower Festival Foundation Inc. (BFFFI) and Fil-Am Golf Association are members of the Tourism Congress. (Rimaliza Opiña)