Filipino airline chases commercial dreams chartering Chinese tourists

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 30 2019 10:39 AM | Updated as of May 30 2019 11:05 AM


MANILA -- Chinese tourists wanting to escape to Boracay's beaches brings "good money" to chartered flight operator Royal Air Philippines, enough for it to jump start a commercial aviation business, its CEO said.

Royal Air is one of many Filipino businesses that are cashing in on warmer ties between Manila and Beijing. All around the capital, hotels, restaurants and property developers are targeting Chinese expatriates, ready to accept their payments via WeChat and Alipay.

"There are a lot of Chinese tourists who want to go to Boracay and we did a lot of that. That’s the market," Royal Air CEO Eduardo Novillas. Chartered flights are usually done at night, he said.

Local businesses should "take advantage" of good relations between China and the Philippines to lure tourists, Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc's public information committee chairman Wilson Flores told ABS-CBN News.

"If we are too negative about our neighbor...baka masayang yung tourism opportunity (we'll be wasting tourism opportunity)," he said.

China and the Philippines are locked in a dispute in the South China Sea and some lawmakers have sought inquiries into the wave of Chinese expatriate workers.

Royal Air is just "one of the many" local startups to benefit from the surge in Chinese tourists arrivals, Flores said.


Royal Air operates 5 chartered flights weekly between Boracay Gateway Kalibo and Macau, Guiyang and Taipei. It also flies between Macau and Lallo, Cagayan province, which is near a financial technology hub.

"'Yun ang pinaka-potential namin (That's our potential), because we know it takes a while for commercial operations, it takes a while to make money in one year," Novillas said.

Royal Air, founded in 2002, started commercial operations in December last year. It launched its Cebu hub in mid-May, with flights to Manila, Davao, Puerto Princesa, Caticlan, and Cagayan De Oro.

At least 70 percent of Royal Air's revenues come from chartered business.

Property developer Megaworld Corp recently inaugurated Lucky Chinatown Hotel specifically designed for Chinese businessmen. Ayala Corp's property arm earlier said it was exploring new industrial park sites to cater to Chinese firms.

"Good news ‘yan kasi its one of many, sa tingin ko there will be more to come. Marami pang makikinabang na negosyo, as long as normal ang relationship, at hindi araw-araw pinaguusapan ang problema like the South China Sea dispute at trade war," Flores said. 

(That's good news. This is just one of many and there will be more to come. Many will benefit as long as the relationship is normal and we don't talk about problems like the South China Sea and the trade war everyday.)

China was the Philippines' second largest market for tourism with 1.25 million arrivals last year, behind South Korea with 1.58 million. Total arrivals rose 7.65 percent to 7.1 million.

In Boracay, the number of Chinese tourist arrival grew 30 percent after the island re-opened in October, Malay, Aklan acting mayor Abram Sualog told ANC last April.

When asked about the issue of Chinese tourists misbehaving while in the Philippines, Flores said both countries should "work together" to keep the good relations. 

"With millions of them kahit anong gawin mo meron talagang pasaway (some are bound to misbehave). But both sides should work together to minimize friction,” Flores said.