Island spat: China suspends Philippines travel

Island spat: China suspends Philippines travel

Decision comes amid rising tensions over disputed island. Most Chinese netizens seem to support the move
Chinese tourists in the Philippines
Chinese tourists inspect a monument to Philippines national hero Jose Rizal at a Manila park.

The China National Tourism Organization (CNTO) has announced the suspension of all travel to the Philippines in the wake of an ongoing sovereignty wrangle between Beijing and Manila over an island in the South China Sea.

Many mainland Chinese travel agents -- including top agencies Ctrip, Caissa International Travel Service and Shanghai International Tour Service Company -- had already halted tours to the Philippines, according to Xinhua News Agency.

On CNN: Tensions over disputed island

The CNTO announcement, made late Thursday, forces all agents to suspend travel.

Travelers who have already booked trips to the Philippines were advised to cancel or postpone their plans. Some agencies, such as Ctrip, agreed to give full refunds to travelers.

Most Chinese media did not directly link the initial travel suspension to the ongoing China-Philippines dispute over the sovereignty of the Scarborough Shoal.

The CNTO cited an anti-China protest set for May 11 in the Philippines as a reason behind its announcement.

Netizen reactions

Most netizens on China's Weibo sites appeared to be in favor of the travel suspension.

"Best if all the China travel agencies could suspend or halt travel packages to the Philippines," posted netizen "Zhangxiaopingspeaking" (张小萍speaking) on Sina Weibo.

"Support! I wish the China National Tourism Organization could set black warning on travel to the Philippines," netizen "azalea blossom on the hillside" (开满山坡的映山红) posted on the same microblog platform.

Some netizens suggest China start sending tourists to the disputed island as an alternative to the Philippines.

"It's just Boracay, Cebu and Bohol (in Philippines), so what? We Chinese don't care at all," wrote "Jing baby_1128" (静宝贝_1128) on Sina. "What we want to visit is Huangyan Island; without the visa requirement, it's so much easier for us to go."

However, there are still notes of disappointment.

“[This is] not good news," commented Chinese netizen Eric_Ning. "I’ve prepared a long time for the trip and now everything is sorted but [I] have to cancel.”

Chinese travelers important to the Philippines

Mainland China is now the fourth largest source of tourists for the Philippines, following South Korea, the United States and Japan, according to the Philippines Department of Tourism.

In the first quarter of 2012, 96,455 mainland Chinese tourists visited the Southeast Asian nation, accounting for 8.4 percent of the total visitor volume.

That's 77 percent higher than the same period last year, and the Philippines is expecting a 25 percent increase in Chinese tourists annually over the next five years.

Boracay, Cebu and Bohol are the most popular destinations in the Philippines among Chinese travelers. Most Chinese join group tours and fly nonstop from eastern China.

Safety concerns

According to a Chinese-language report in Xinhua, travel agencies had earlier this week halted trips to the Philippines in order to "ensure the safety of Chinese citizens." However, the article did not elaborate on the nature of the safety concerns.

Dao Shuming (道书明), secretary of the Shanghai Municipal Tourism Bureau, told a TV station that travel agencies in China were informed by Filipino travel agencies that Chinese travelers faced safety issues and that they would prefer Chinese tour groups to stay away.

“We know 497 Shanghainese tourists are still in the Philippines -- we hope they come back soon,” added Dao.

Various tour companies told Xinhua they are paying close attention to the development of the China-Philippines standoff and will not reopen routes to the Philippines until the situation improves.

Philippines Tourism Organization offices in Shanghai and Beijing both declined to comment.

Island dispute background

Beijing and Manila both claim Scarborough Shoal, which China calls Huangyan Island. It is some 130 miles (200 kilometers) from the Philippine island of Luzon.

Analysts believe the area is rich in mineral resources, natural gas and oil.

A tense standoff between China and the Philippines has been underway since April 10, when the Philippine Navy accused Chinese boats of fishing illegally off of Scarborough Shoal.

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