Tour agencies urge end to Philippine travel alert
Travel agencies yesterday called on the Hong Kong government to lift the black travel alert on the Philippines that has been in place since last year's deadly siege in Manila of a bus carrying Hong Kong tourists.
The alert - the highest of the three levels on the government's travel-warning system - has halted all tour-group travel from Hong Kong to the country and jeopardised some businesses, the agencies said. The alert was posted hours after seven Hong Kong tourists and their guide were killed on the bus by sacked policeman Rolando Mendoza in August last year.
The Philippine Department of Tourism is launching a campaign to rebrand Manila and the country's more than 7,000 islands as a 'must-experience destination in Asia'. The campaign will include familiarisation tours for government officials and tour agencies to restore confidence in the country.
More than 60 representatives from travel agencies, airlines and hotels were briefed on the campaign yesterday. Many said the most important issue was to get the black travel alert lifted as soon as possible.
'The tragedy was a one-off incident,' said Thomas So, general manager of Planet Holiday. 'Had it not involved Hong Kong people, I don't think the reaction would have been so strong.'
Planet Holiday's business had halved since the tragedy, So said. He suggested the government could lift the warning in stages, beginning with a few islands.
Tse Chi-kin, elder brother of slain tour guide Masa Tse Ting-chunn, said he opposed lifting the warning before the Philippines had taken remedial action.
Benito Bengzon Jnr, assistant secretary of the Philippine Department of Tourism, told the meeting that the department had trained 1,200 tourism police, to be deployed at 40 to 50 destinations. It has also trained more Putonghua-speaking tour guides.
Of the upcoming tours for officials, he said: 'We want them to see for themselves that the situation is quite safe and the country is enjoyable.'
Michael Wu Siu-ieng, chairman of the Travel Industry Council, said attendance on the tour would depend on what the Philippines had done to improve protection for tourists and whether the black travel alert was lifted.
The government sent an assistant secretary for security to the meeting but the official did not speak. A Security Bureau spokesman said later that it would monitor closely improvements made by the Philippine authorities.
One familiarisation tour, organised by the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong, will depart today. The consuls general of 24 countries, including a deputy commissioner of China's foreign ministry, and their family members will tour Manila and Cebu for four days.
They will visit Fort Santiago, where Mendoza hijacked the tour bus, and will pass the Rizal Park, where he shot his victims before police shot him dead.
Kira Danganan-Azucena, the Philippine deputy consul general, said the Security Bureau and protocol division had been sent invitations but officials said they were too busy.