Manila 'not engaging in vulture tourism'
The killer waves that devastated the tourist playgrounds in Thailand and South Asia 20 days ago are bringing an unexpected business surge to Philippine beaches, but officials deny they are exploiting the tragedy.
Philippine Airlines flights from Hong Kong to the central Philippine islands of Cebu and Boracay are fully booked until the Lunar New Year.
Upscale resorts like Amanpulo - the playground of the likes of movie stars Robert de Niro and Tom Cruise, and models Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell - have firm bookings for the whole year.
Manila's tourism secretary Joseph Ace Durano denied suggestions the government was exploiting the tragedy that befell rival Asian tourist spots to divert clientele to Manila.
'There is no need for vulture tourism. There is really enough traffic out there for everyone.
'Historically ... this is really the peak months of our beach destinations.'
He said he had no information about whether bookings had been diverted to the Philippines.
But according to Abacus, a system linking major Asian airlines and 40,000 hotels worldwide: 'Gross bookings and net arrivals into China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Philippines, Singapore, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Pakistan increased during the last two weeks indicating that many travellers who cancelled bookings to affected areas have switched to other destinations within Asia-Pacific.'
According to confidential tourism department documents seen by the South China Morning Post, Manila has instructed its tourism officials overseas to contact foreign tour operators 'to divert bookings to the Philippines'.
One internal memo dated December 29 noted that 'for the European market, the following: Cebu, Bohol, Boracay, Palawan, Leyte and maybe Davao will be alternative destinations to Phuket, Maldives, and Malaysia'.
Mr Durano said he was not factoring the tsunami into this year's targets and projections. 'The market has a short-term memory,' he said.
'All major tourist organisations project a rebound in [tsunami-affected areas] in six months' time.'
Last year, despite terrorist warnings from the US, Britain and Australia, 2.26 million tourists came - topping the record high of 2.22 million in 1997, he said.