Tourism players await return of Chinese tourists

THE additional flights going to Cebu and the return of the Chinese tourists are expected to drive better economic recovery and activities for the island’s tourism sector.

Michael Kempf, general manager of Dusit Thani Mactan Cebu, said these are the scenarios that have not been realized yet under the post-pandemic business environment which the tourism stakeholders are eagerly anticipating.

“The main challenge that we face in Cebu is still the flights which are not yet that frequent from the many destinations. This is a concern for many of the hoteliers because if we have many flights that come in, you will get more guests coming to the properties. As soon as flights start to get back, we will have this demand coming in, then we will see hotel business immediately picking up, including restaurants, and sightseeing spots. It will have a chain of reaction,” said Kempf.

Cebu’s tourism stakeholders also anticipate the return of tourists from Japan and China. Th East Asian countries are the island’s two major source markets.

As soon as they start traveling again, Kempf said this will boost demand in hotels and other tourism-related businesses.

“This is what we are waiting for,” he said, hoping that in the first quarter of this year, Dusit Thani Mactan will see increasing inquiries from these markets.

China has lifted its quarantine requirement for inbound travelers starting Jan. 8.

At present, 18 local and foreign carriers are connecting Cebu to destinations like Doha, Dubai, Hong Kong, Incheon (South Korea), Busan (South Korea), Singapore, Narita (Japan), Bangkok (Thailand), Istanbul and Taipei.

Jeju Air, Jin Air, Korean Air and T’Way have daily flights from Incheon and Busan to Cebu. Eva Air and China Airlines fly from Taipei (Taiwan) to Cebu daily and four times weekly, respectively.

Starting Jan. 17, Starlux will also fly daily from Taipei to Cebu.

Capital Economics outlined the Philippines as one of the countries that is likely to benefit from the return of Chinese tourists alongside Cambodia, Mauritius, Malaysia, Taiwan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and South Korea.

Analysts from Goldman Sachs projects that Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore would benefit the most if China’s travel were to return to 2019 levels.

Revenge travel

Colliers Philippines sees Cebu hotels and resorts cornering pent-up demand due primarily to revenge travel.

“We see Cebu retaining its stature as a key business and leisure destination,” the property consultancy firm said.

It noted that the revival of meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions activities and in-person events should help propel hotel occupancies and average daily rates in Cebu over the next 12 months.

Kelie Ko, president of Mandaue Chamber of Commerce and Industry, believes Cebu should definitely capture the gains from revenge travel and hotel properties enjoy higher demand if they update their offers, and pricing and strengthen their positioning in the market.

A delegate from last year’s East Asia Inter-Regional Tourism Forum, Ko said Cebu has a higher chance of capturing more tourists if it will deliver authenticity in terms of the products and services it offers.

Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority shows that the tourism sector’s share of the country’s economy reached 5.2 percent in 2021 from 5.1 percent in 2020.

Domestic tourism expenditures also reached P783 billion (US$13.2 billion), up 39 percent year-on-year after reporting 37.3 million trips in 2021 (from 27 million in 2020).

The Department of Tourism is optimistic that the removal of mask mandates will likely lure more travelers to visit the country.

“In our view, this is likely to stoke demand for hotels across the country and help raise occupancies,” Colliers Philippines said.

However, the Philippine Hotel Owners Association is “cautiously optimistic” in 2023 as rising inflation, airfares as well as global geopolitical tensions are likely to affect customers’ travel decisions.

As travel demand recovers, Colliers Philippines believes that now is an opportune time for developers to consider bringing in foreign hotel brands.

Hotel operators should also continue to innovate with their services and tap technology in enhancing customer experience.