Philippine travel agency feels pinch of HK protests

Jan Yumul, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 10 2019 07:42 AM

Anti-extradition bill demonstrators attend a protest at the arrival hall of Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Friday, August 9, 2019. Thomas Peter, Reuters

With mass, leaderless demonstrations indiscriminately spreading across various districts of Hong Kong, and which are unlikely to end soon, many Filipino travelers are giving their favorite destination choice a rethink.

It is, at least, a pinch Manila-based Golden Sky Travel and Tours owner Dolly Santos is starting to feel, as bookings and queries on the former British colony declined during the first week of August.

Bookings to Hong Kong, she says, usually see double-digit growth on a quarterly basis. She was quick to add that she remains positive, and that losses to the business remain "minimal," as Filipinos' appetite for travel would not stop them from considering other destinations. These destinations include Taiwan, which is becoming increasingly popular among the Filipinos; Singapore; and Korea.

Santos, who has been running the travel agency business for 22 years, would handle a weekly average of 20 bookings for Hong Kong. Eighty percent of the bookings would come from families, and the rest are solo travelers. The travel agency owner expects things to pick up from September, or the "ber" months.

August, she says, is "ghost month" and that July and August are during the rainy season so not a lot of traveling takes place.

"During the SARS outbreak in 2003, there were no security threats. Once media showed Hong Kong was safe, Pinoys started going to Hong Kong," said Santos.

The 2014 Occupy Central protests, says Santos, affected business for about 1 week to 10 days. This time, it's different because of the protest at the airport. Public transport has been affected and (demonstrators) are "fighting among themselves," said Santos.

This week, a massive strike which garnered support from various sectors crippled the city. "The booking stopped this week," said Santos.

Filipino travelers who do decide to cancel their flight altogether would normally notify their office 2 days before the flight schedule.

"It has been affecting us since August 1. From June to July, not much because there was no protest done at the (Hong Kong) airport, " said Santos in a phone interview with ABS-CBN News.

"There is perception of imminent danger already. The airport is not secured. Hong Kong has always been the first destination for Filipino travelers. When Taiwan announced the extension of its visa-free policy, the market changed a lot."

The Philippines, alongside Taiwan, Korea, the United States, and Japan, is among Hong Kong's top 10 sources of visitors. Data from the Hong Kong Tourism Board showed that Filipinos visiting the former British colony grew 13.3 percent between January 2019 and June 2019, compared to the same period the previous year. June saw some 95,000 Filipinos visiting the territory.