EDITORIAL: Riding the wave of Asian tourism

There has been a perceptible increase in Asian tourism activity in Puerto Princesa City owing to the opening of at least three direct international flights from Korea and mainland China. Compared to the same season in the previous years, the city’s tourism frontline services are abuzz with activity nowadays.

According to airline estimates, seat occupancy in the incoming Korean flights has been averaging at 80 percent, indicating a positive trend. Even city residents have noticed the regularity of bumping into packs of Koreans and Chinese tourists not only in the regular destinations around town but even inside local shopping malls and wet markets.

It is interesting to note that the direct flights from Korea had been offered by Philippine Airlines as early as 2015 but it wasn’t until the closing of Boracay a few months ago that these routes got really energized. The reason was Boracay’s sudden closure. Aklan’s loss, or so it had seemed, was Puerto Princesa’s gain as travel agencies rerouted thousands of previously booked Boracay flights to other destinations, with Palawan being one of the most popular options.

The stability and consistency of Puerto Princesa tourism’s growth, however, will be challenged anew when Boracay reopens its beaches before the year ends. Will the Koreans and the Chinese flock back to Aklan? Will they divert to San Vicente with its newly developed Long Beach, or crowd out El Nido and Coron? Will they line up to Bali instead, which is this year’s Best Island according to the reputable Travel+Leisure magazine? The determining factor of where the beeline of international tourists will end up is a complex equation with too many unknown or unpredictable factors.

Tourists, especially the rich Asian type, prefer destinations that stand out from others. A visiting authority on Korean tourism pointed to an observation that today’s typical travelers are mainly out hunting for the best deals, where promotions and value of the attractions matter. Speaking to local stakeholders last week, he noted that the actual number of Korean tourists coming to Palawan is but a very small fraction of all Korean nationals going out on vacation. One way of putting it is that Palawan, at least for the Koreans, remains a path less trodden.

The view from where we sit is that things seems to be looking up for local tourism, and it is in fact. It does not however take into account the larger context of the international trend and how this impacts on the sustainability or long term growth of domestic tourism. When externalities such as a security alert or terrorism threat-induced travel alert,  hangs over a destination like Palawan, things can go wrong.

This had been experienced by Puerto Princesa City before, when City tourism ground to a halt following the Dos Palmas kidnapping perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf Group at the turn of the decade.

The City tourism industry needs to accurately define its footing in the overall Asian and international tourism universe, have a keen sense of the dynamics involved in successfully promoting its destinations, and have the resources and wherewithal to undertake forward-looking initiatives beyond simply riding the wave. For once these waves break into the rocks, there is no assurance that more waves can be had.

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