The Chinese are coming (again?)!

By Charles Lim

Undoubtedly, one of the most affected trade during the COVID19 pandemic in thecountry has to be the tourism industry. Airports closed, hotels closed, shopping malls closed, retail shops closed, spas closed, casinos closed, restaurants closed, themed and water parks closed — the list goes on.

In the center of this catastrophe, lies on all important but vexatious segment of the Philippines’ tourist market — the Chinese. For being number 2 in terms of tourist arrivals — next to the Koreans — in 2019, the 1.74 million visitors was expected to overtake the Koreans and hit the 2 million mark this year if not for the COVID19. More than one fifth or 21% of our arrivals of 8.26 million in 2019 are Chinese and combine them with the Koreans, we are locked down (pun intended) with 45% visitors just from these two North Asian countries.

The Chinese are such formidable but yet obnoxious (not all, of course) travelers and big spenders that they are contributing so heavily to our ASEAN neighbors’ tourist trade as well. In 2019, eleven million of them visited Thailand ringing up the cash register with a boggling $17B. In Singapore, 3.6 million Chinese spent $3.2B. Cambodia – oh, so reliant on them – attracted 2.4 million Chinese (38% of 5.3 arrivals) with $4.35B in tourist receipts contributing 12.7% to the country’s GDP.

Malaysia recorded 3.26 million Chinese out of total arrivals of 20.1 million. In 2019 Vietnam, inspite of a strained hostile relationship, still welcomed 5.81 million of their next door neighbors, up by a hefty 16.2% over 2018 while Indonesia with gem destinations like Bali and Borobudur attracted over 2 million.

Further afield, the more affluent Chinese also flooded (another pun intended) the canals of Italy by contributing 6 million tourists to the country’s total arrival of 62.9 million in 2019. In Australia just 1.4 million China men and women spent $11.9 B and contributed 26% to the total tourist expenditure. Ah, these are the ones Secretary Berna Puyat and our industry leaders are wishing for.

One cynic in Venice complained that with 6 million undisciplined and unhygienic Chinese roaming along the canals of Venice, no wonder the water level has risen and the town flooded. Ah, the price one has to pay. Shockingly there are videos of our Chinese mga kapatid (brethren) spitting and defecating along the Venetian streets and mistaking the Grande Canale for a Roman bath with wife giving him a body scrub!! Remember the proverb: When in Rome, do what the Romans do!

Watching an Aljeereza documentary on Chinese tourists reinforces and validates my perception of Chinese tourists. To us with a Western culture, they are loudmouthed, uncouth, unhygienic, rude, boisterous and aggressive.

On the other side of the coin, America is probably the only country that registered a dip in Chinese tourist arrivals. From an all time high of 3.17 million arrivals in 2017, it fell to 2.84 million in 2019 and yet Donald Trump claims that he and Xi Jinping are great friends. He’s a great guy; you can trust him. I like him. He likes me. I think; you can ask him.

Put under the microscopic lab test for virus, behavioral sciences and sheer curiosity, what sort of a specie do we have here arriving at our airports by the thousands each day? This satire speaks volumes, gushing out of the mouths of our tourism stakeholders, who for one reason or other are not writing this column.

Just what sort of Chinese tourist do we need? Yes, I know the filthy rich. That’s the problem, you see. They are rich and “filthy” at the same time.

This lock down has created an ideal opportunity to set new parameters to target a new gene of Chinese tourists. Can we, for the love of Binondo, propose the following:

  1. Due to the COVID19 pandemic, all tourists and POGO personnel from China must possess a valid health certificate from a Philippine or World Health Organization recognized health authority or institution based in China before boarding flight to Philippines.
  2. All tourists and POGO personnel and accompanying spouses from China should have a valid and recognized medical insurance policy before entering the country with a Philippine medical institution covering any form of illness — from testing, treatment and hospitalization up to cadaver repatriation (batteries not included!) — if unavoidable.
  3. All tourists and POGO personnel must be adorned with a smart tracer chip to detect their movements within the country with built-in video capabilities. Those on honeymoon are exempted; just produce recent marriage certificate authenticated by the Chinese Peoples Liberation Party chief.
  4. For incoming tourists, minimum stay in DOT accredited hotels and resorts must be five and a half days.Why half day? Hotels charge a full day rate for your half day, you understand. No extension request to be entertained.
  5. All hotel, tours, meal rates and airfares prior to COVID19 will no longer be honored. Guys, please, please. This is the time to raise your rates. Believe me these Chinese can pay big bucks. You see them make a beeline dash to the nearest Chanel, Louis Vitton, Burberry, Jimmy Choo and Mang Inasal stores from your hotel as soon as they check in. With the exception of the last store, they will probably be spending at least $5,000.00 in every store. And your room costs a miserable $65.00 a night? Come on.
  6. How to justify the hike in rates, you may ask? Simple, or else you have no business to be in the travel business. Look around at some of your PHILTOA members. Ha!

Follow scrupulously what our Inter Agency Task Force (IATF) has been lambasting us for weeks and months.

a. Social Distancing. Now that you can’t sit patrons and passengers close to each other, you have to charge double or triple. One airline seat for the price of two. Same thing in restaurants – eat on one table, pay the price for two tables. Tagaytay tour? That will cost you a fortune. You see we have to close the whole island for you. Only two tourists allowed a day but I tell you its great this time of year. If you are lucky, the volcano will erupt.

b. Wear Mask. Wash Hands. Use Sanitizers. Disinfectants. “Sus, who is going to pay for all this?” my hotel manager friend asked. Your guess is your guest! No more discounts for rooms please.

Besides, hotels probably have to reconfigure their rooms to twins; possibly installing dividers to separate the wife from the husband or putting a mattress in the bathtub. And can you imagine the redesigning of personnel uniforms for 600 staff in all departments? Who is going to pay for all this? Your guess is your guest.

c. Observe curfew. From 10 pm to 6 am the following morning, all hotel rooms, restaurants, bars, spas, karaoke joints, casinos, and toilets will be on total locked down. No one will be allowed to leave. The last three will be on overdrive. Before you step out, please do not forget to pick up your copy of Philippine Star or Daily Inquirer. If you are wearing yellow for the day, you will be handed the Inquirer; you will not have a choice. All others will receive the Philippine Star. By enforcing the curfew and the free newspaper, guess who will have to pay for this?

d. Observe Quarantine. Produce a 14 day package in all hotels and resorts. Arrive Manila, check in hotel and avail of full board in-room service packages. Sorry, no Mang Inasal or Joilibee deliveries allowed unless your stay is in the SEA Games Village in New Clark City or a 2Go vessel in the Port area in Manila. Long staying guests, oh my.

All of the above should allow us to revoke, rescind, recall, replace, repeal, refute, rebuff, reject and revise old unprofitable practices and contracted rates (reason? Force Majeure!) when dealing with the Chinese or any other nationality for that matter.

Do not fret about losing the market. China without a siopao and siomai doubt loves us and will not leave the Philippines. Take for instance, the Spratly and Paracel islands. They are here to stay for a long time. I wonder if our new neighbor, Mayor Wuy You-kum of the Spratlys will invite me for dim sum soon. If they do, remind me to bring a dozen of Mang Inasal’s PM2 and a copy of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the International Tribunal Ruling as a homeowners’ association dos and don’ts and as a neighborhood map. Caviteños will soon be welcoming their new neighbors too at Sangley.

Domestic flights by Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines may soon start operating between Sangley and Sprately since we are so good friends – so say both our Presidents.

The future looks bright. For the coming winter (flu season), would you believe over half the population around 600 million Chinese will need summer homes from November 2020 to February of March of 2021? They need the hot summer heat which only the ASEAN countries, Bahamas, and the Southern Hemisphere can offer. The sun and the heat, according to Donald Trump, will eradicate the COVID19 virus. He said it, we did not.

The author writes — obviously not for a living — satires during occasions like pandemics, world wars, blue moons, and when his wife says, “you write!”

Charles has an extensive experience in airline, hospitality, and destination marketing in the Philippines after stints in Asian cities and Europe. He is currently consulting for several companies which are just as confused as he is on what the future lies.

For more confused theories and strategies, Charles can be reached at