Manila hostage crisis

Philippines 'as risky as Syria' for Hong Kong tourists, as black travel alert remains

Despite rising visitor numbers, black travel alert stays in place after hostage crisis

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 6:07am

The Philippines remains as dangerous a country to visit as war-torn Syria, according to the Hong Kong government.

More than two-and-a-half years after the Manila hostage crisis, security chiefs still refuse to lift the black travel alert.

And that's despite new figures showing that more Hong Kong and mainland tourists are visiting the Philippines than ever before.

Seven Hong Kong tourists and their guide were shot dead when a sacked Manila police officer hijacked their tour bus in the city's Rizal Park in August 2010.

Since then the Philippines has had a black alert against it under the Outbound Travel Alert (OTA) system, which means Hong Kong tourists face a severe threat in the country and should avoid travelling there.

The only other country for which there is a black alert is Syria, where civil war has left at least 60,000 people dead, reducing villages, towns and cities to rubble and creating a massive wave of refugees.

But according to the Philippines Department of Tourism, Hong Kong is now the ninth-highest source of visitors to the country. Figures released last week showed the number of arrivals from Hong Kong rose 2.78 per cent from 2011 to 118,666.

Arrivals from the mainland rose 5.87 per cent year on year to 250,883.

And even with a new chief executive and administration in place in Hong Kong, there are still no plans for the Philippines travel status to be changed.

A Security Bureau spokesman confirmed that no amendment would be made, although the situation would be reviewed regularly.

"The Incident Investigation and Review Committee of the Philippines are reported to have reviewed the mechanism and procedures for handling emergency incidents," he said.

"We hope that the relevant report will lead to concrete measures to enhance the crisis management mechanism, improve the safety of travellers and avoid a recurrence of such an incident in the Philippines."

Tourism sector lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun believes the government's stance has political overtones. He said the government is continuing to punish the Philippines for one tragic, but isolated, incident.

"If the government is waiting for the Philippines to restructure their internal security before downgrading the travel warning, it will be level black for ever," he said.

The OTA system aims to help people better understand the risk or threat to personal safety in travelling to 85 countries - those that are the most popular travel destinations for Hong Kong residents.

There are three alert levels. After black there is red, which denotes a significant threat, meaning travellers should adjust their travel plans and avoid non-essential travel.

Then there is amber, which indicates signs of a threat in a country, meaning travellers should monitor the situation and exercise caution.