The arrival of Chinese tourists in Cebu and neighboring areas in Central Visayas continue to increase, data from the Department of Tourism in the region (DOT-7) showed.
However, given the influx of Chinese tourists, fueled by the over two dozen flights now linking Cebu and key Chinese cities, raised the question of whether the region’s tourism sector is ready to handle tourists who hardly speak English.
As Chinese nationals enjoy a two-week vacation in celebration of the Chinese New Year or their Spring festival, which falls on February 16 (Friday), more tourists are expected in Cebu and Bohol this week.
As this happens, Consul Shi Yong of the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Cebu has conducted coordination meetings with local officials and government agencies to ensure the safety and security of the tourists.
A total of 171,197 Chinese tourists visited Central Visayas in the first half of 2017 alone, while 244,925 Chinese tourists visited the region in 2016, according to data from DOT-7.
The increase in tourists arrivals from China is also attributed to the 26 direct flights between the Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA) from 10 Chinese cities. These routes are being served by airlines from China and the Philippines.
A busy schedule ahead in fact prompted the Consulate General in Cebu to celebrate Chinese New Year eight days earlier than its actual date to give the consular personnel ample time to prepare for the arrival of these tourists.
The Chinese tourists are expected to visit sites such as the town of Oslob in southern Cebu, which is famous for whale watching activities.
Shi, in an interview with reporters after the Chinese New Year festivities at Marco Polo Plaza Cebu on Feb. 8, said they have been working with the local officials of Oslob to put up warning signs and safety reminders in Chinese characters for Chinese tourists visiting the area.
“Certain incidents such as drowning happened before. We don’t want that to happen. We got support from the mayor (Oslob Mayor Jose Tumulak).
We are currently working on setting up signs in Chinese so that they will be able to read them and know them,” said Shi, who has been posted in Cebu since 2016.
Jose Dodgie, acting chief of Oslob’s Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (MDRRMO), confirmed they were given a heads up on the possibility of putting up warning signs at tourists spots, especially near the waters of Barangay Tan-awan where whale sharks, locally known as butanding, flock in the early morning.
“Maglisod gyud sila ug sabot og English. Unya most of the time, dili ni sila magdala ug interpreter pag-abot sa Oslob,” said Dodgie.
(They have difficulty in understanding the English language. Most of the time, they do not bring with them an interpreter when they come to Oslob.)
Dodgie said they were waiting for their local government’s tourism office to coordinate with the disaster team in implementing the plans from the Consulate General of China in Cebu.
In a text message to CDN, Alice Queblatin, president of the Cebu Association of Tour Operations Specialists (Catos), said they welcomed the initiative of the Chinese Consulate General in Cebu.
“We welcome the plan of the Chinese consulate to put up signs in Chinese along tourist highways like Oslob. This is a great help,” said Queblatin.
Data from DOT-7 revealed that of the 2.98 million foreign visitors in Central Visayas between January to June 2017, China placed third. Korea remained with the most number of arrivals at 402,858 individuals, followed by Japan (183,644), China (171,197), USA (106,075) and Australia (32,396).
Shi said Chinese tourists to Central Visayas increased by 50 percent because of the 26 direct flights from 10 Chinese cities to Cebu.
“In this spring festival holiday period, so many Chinese tourists chose to come to our beautiful Visayas islands and many of the local hotels are fully booked. In 2018, I look forward to more flight routes opened and more people-to-people exchanges. Aside from tourism exchanges, we will promote more culture exchanges,” said Shi.
At present, China Eastern Airlines (Shanghai and Guangzhou), Juneyao Airlines (Shanghai), Lucky Air (Kunming), Okay Airways (Xi’an), Sichuan Airlines (Sichuan) and Xiamen Air (Xiamen and Fuzhou) fly directly to Cebu.
In an interview with Philippine journalists in Beijing last July 2017, Yan Xu, division chief of the international relations section of the China National Tourism Administration, said there would be an upward trend in the number of tourists visiting the Philippines from the world’s largest source of outbound travelers given its nearly 1.4 billion population.
Emmanuel “Jun” Barreto Jr., owner of Cebu Trip Tours, said finding a tour guide who speaks Mandarin Chinese is a challenge for many tour operators.
“It has been a challenge for a couple of years. There are few Mandarin-speaking tour guides in Cebu. That poses a difficulty because we have a lot of Chinese tourists,” Barreto told CDN.
“What we do we is hire a Chinese translator with an English speaking guide then he will translate. Some agencies have their own in-house Chinese tour guides,” he added.
Barreto, who has been in the travel and tour business for seven years, said big groups from mainland China bring with them an interpreter or a translator. But families of four or five do not bring any interpreter.
“I think DOT is aware about the fact that there is really a need for Mandarin-speaking guides. It is a challenge because there are very few guides who can speak Chinese. Good thing that younger Chinese tourists can understand English,” he said.
At the interview at Marco Polo Plaza Cebu, Shi said they were instructed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be hands on and interact with local officials and government agencies so they will know the needs of the community.
“We were told to go to the small towns, visit remote areas and interact with the people,” he said.
Despite the growing tension due to issues surrounding the Benham Rise, which Shi begged off from giving his comment, the Consul General said their office intends to invite and facilitate more visits to China for local officials.
“I think this kind of exchange will enhance mutual understanding and mutual trust, and deepen cooperation,” said Shi.
Shi said the consular office will continue to promote and implement programs on cultural and educational exchanges, economic cooperation and people-to-people relations.
He said they are looking forward to strengthening partnerships in the field of law enforcement to support the Philippines’ anti-illegal drug campaign.
Next in the pipeline is to invite police officers from the Philippines to visit China and learn from the country’s experience in fighting the illegal drug war.
“In 2018, we are faced with great opportunities in developing the relationship between China and the Philippines. We have a great deal to look forward to,” he said.
In the area of trade, Shi announced that China will host the first import expo in Shanghai in November 2018 and encouraged Filipinos to join the expo.
He said the expo represents the important measure that China has taken to further open up its market to the world.
“In the next five years, China is estimated to import goods worth US$ 8 trillion. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) of the Philippines is set to lead the Philippine delegation to join this expo. I hope more companies from this region will join the Expo and use it as a platform to sell Philippine products and services to China and to the World,” he said.
Shi also said that Fujian province, Hainan province and Chengdu City developed their friendly relations with Central Visayas and Cebu.
“In 2018, I look forward to more Chinese provinces and cities coming to this region and promoting cooperation and exchanges,” he said.
To promote cultural exchange, a gala performance entitled “Cultures of China, Festival of Spring” will happen on March 6 and will be held at the Waterfront Cebu City Hotel and Casino in Lahug, Cebu City.
Some 50 award-winning Chinese artists will present an entertainment show to the Cebuanos and Shi promised it will be a “memorable evening of joy, excitement and celebration.”
Shi said that these projects — including tourism-related initiatives such as setting up warning signs in Chinese characters — provides an opportunity for China and the Philippines to work together.
“Looking ahead, we are fully confident about the prospects of the China-Philippines relations. The Chinese people want to be the Filipinos’ close neighbor and sincere friend, helping each other through difficulties,” said Shi.
He described China as the Philippines’ good brother.
“China will be the Philippines’ steadfast partner, forging ahead hand in hand — a good brother for generations to come,” he said. / WITH CORRESPONDENT MOREXETTE MARIE ERRAM