The abrupt closure of the popular tourist island of Boracay could have a served as a major roadblock to the short and medium-term growth of tourism to the Philippines. However, it appears that tourism has remained steady, for now. The Department of Tourism of the Philippines reported a 10 percent growth in the number of foreign arrivals for the period between January and May, with tourists going to other Filipino destinations apart from Boracay. Chinese tourism saw some of the most impressive growth. Last year for the same period, the country attracted 388,896 Chinese tourists. This year, the Philippines attracted 559,289, representing overall growth of 44 percent. February 2018 alone saw growth of 86 percent over February 2017.

Chinese tourist arrivals to the Philippines were up by 44 percent for the first five months of the year

However, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the closure of Boracay is having a negative impact on Chinese tourism growth. The island, which has a population of around 30,000 and attracts some 2 million visitors a year, was closed on the orders of Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, who called the island a “cesspool.” The closure started in late April and is set to last six months.

While Chinese tourism arrivals for the month of May just after the Boracay closure was higher than the figure for May last year, the figure does represent a serious slowdown. Chinese tourist arrivals for May 2017 stood at 73,649. May 2018 saw 78,071 Chinese arrivals. While 6 percent growth is still substantial, it is a far cry from the 86 percent growth of February or the total 44 percent growth for the five-month period.

While the closure of Boracay did not stop tourism growth, it has coincided with a slow down in tourism arrivals

The overall growth of foreign arrivals also slowed down after the April closure of Boracay, with arrivals growing by less than 1 percent for May. Still, this could also be a sign that once the island is eventually opened, arrivals could continue to grow at a brisk pace. Although, to some extent, the closure and the harsh rhetoric coming from Duterte has likely damaged the perception of the island of Boracay, and the entirety of the Philippines, as a tourism destination.

Nonetheless, Filipino authorities are making efforts to cement Chinese tourism growth further. In particular, authorities are hoping to roll out a streamlined visa-on-arrival system for tourists. While the plan would ostensibly ease the process for tourists from all origins seeking to enter the Philippines via the visa-on-arrival scheme, it’s targeting Chinese travelers in particular. Authorities are considering plans to hire Mandarin-speaking personnel for airports to better assist Chinese tourists.

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