CEBU CITY – Ambassadors and other foreign dignitaries from seven countries arrived in Cebu on Sunday for a business forum organized to celebrate Mandaue City’s 41st Charter Day.
In a press conference at the Mactan airport VIP Lounge, they said that despite last Monday’s hostage-taking fiasco, in which eight Hong Kong tourists and a dismissed Filipino policeman died, they will continue to encourage their people to visit the Philippines.
“Until I arrived here in Cebu today (Sunday), there is no confirmation of such a restriction order,” Ambassador Mohsin Razl of Pakistan said, referring to a newspaper report quoting a Filipino official as saying Pakistan and Nepal have also issued advisories against traveling to the Philippines.
“The Philippines is a wonderful country and Cebu is an excellent business and tourist destination,” the ambassador said.
Barely a week after the hostage-taking, an official of the Department of Tourism (DOT) in Central Visayas said on Sunday that three hotels in Cebu City have reported an estimated loss of about P2 million, after Chinese tourists cancelled their September bookings.
DOT-Central Visayas officer-in-charge Rowena Montecillo also said the transport sector stands to lose about P1 million as the cancellation of several chartered flights from China continues.
“There were cancellations of chartered flights yesterday (Saturday) for September bookings. We’re still monitoring until next month,” Montecillo said.
The DOT offered on Sunday a mass at the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral for the victims of the hostage-taking. Eight tourists died after being held hostage nearly 12 hours by former policeman Rolando Mendoza, whom a sniper eventually killed.
Hong Kong immediately issued a black alert, warning against all travel to the Philippines.
The DOT, Montecillo said, has appealed to the general consul of the People’s Republic of China to reconsider its imposition of the travel ban.
“The consul general said the incident is an isolated case but they still seek answers. They are still waiting for the result of the investigation,” Montecillo said.
A rare high point in a week marked by sorrow and anxiety, the ambassadors and other dignitaries from seven countries arrived in Mactan on Sunday.
Expected at Monday afternoon’s business forum in the Cebu International Convention Center are Ambassadors Wadee Al-Batti of Iraq, Nawalage Bennet Cooray of Sri Lanka, Mohsin Razl of Pakistan, Kristiarto S. Legowo of Indonesia and Hos Sereythonh of Cambodia; Charge d’affaire Manuel Perez Iturbe of Venezuela; and deputy head of mission Pham Hao of Vietnam.
Thousands of Vietnamese have already come to the Philippines as tourists and businessmen, and thousands more are coming, said Hao.
“What we need now are direct flights between Hanoi and Cebu or Hanoi and Manila for the convenience of our citizens,” he said.
Iturbe said Venezuela, one of the oil-producing countries in the world, has trade agreements with the Philippines, which they want to expand.
Legowo said that during the forum on Monday, he will seek better trade relations between Cebu and Indonesia.
Al-Batti said he will request for the lifting of the travel ban to Iraq issued by the Philippine Government on Filipinos who want to work in his country.
“My country has a young democracy but it is improving. We are reconstructing and rebuilding and we need Filipino workers who are skilled and experienced,” Al-Batti said.
Cooray said the Sri Lankan government is promoting the Philippines in their country, and that Philippine travel agencies are also promoting Sri Lanka in Cebu and other areas.
Although worried, local travel and tourism players are trying their best to cope.
Philippine Federation of Professional Tour Guides Association president Danny Nazareno said there has been a noticeable drop in the number of Chinese tourists in Bohol.
“The hostage-taking incident will surely have a negative effect on us. It was broadcast live. We were worried as we watched the incident because tourism is a very volatile industry. Now, we feel that there are fewer Chinese tourists who come to Bohol,” said Nazareno, also president of the Bohol Island Tour Guide Association.
He added it’s also the lean season, which helps explain the scarcity of tourists.
At the mass the DOT offered, Fr. Jojo de Aquino called on the public to “pray as a nation, church, and as a praying community,” and to ask for forgiveness.
Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, he said, prayed while the hostage-taking crisis was taking place. “He turned off the television and went to the prayer room.” (EOB/RSB of Sun.Star Cebu)