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Friday, August 27, 2010

Botched Hostage rescue causes HK to cancel flights to Laoag and Manila

Direct flights from Hong Kong to this Laog have been canceled
"indefinitely" beginning Thursday, a fallout from the bloody Aug. 23
hostage-taking at Luneta Park in Manila that left eight Hong Kong
tourists dead.

Ronal Estabillo, manager of Laoag International Airport, said he
received a letter this week from executives of Hong Kong Express
Flights notifying the airport of the cancellation of the airline's
direct flights to Laoag.

The Hong Kong airline flies in tourists twice a week. About 1,200 Hong
Kong tourists visit the city monthly for rest and recreation, said
Milagros Gonzales, provincial tourism officer.

Most of the tourists visit Fort Ilocandia to play in the casino there,
the tourism office said.

Estabillo said the airline's letter was silent on the reason for the
cancellation. But he said he was aware of a travel ban imposed by
Chinese authorities on Tuesday in the aftermath of the bungled rescue
attempt of the Chinese hostages.

Estabillo said the last Hong Kong flight to the city that was
scheduled to arrive at 5 p.m. on Thursday was expected to fly home the
remaining Chinese tourists who arrived here on Sunday.

Flights from Hong Kong take only 45 minutes to reach Laoag
International Airport.

Gonzales said she was also told that a scheduled flight from
Kaoshiung, Taiwan, to this city also faced cancellation. Around 200
Taiwanese tourists visit the city each month to play in the casino or
play golf.

Authorities here are unaware if Taiwan had issued any travel ban or
travel advisory as a result of the deadly Manila bus hijacking.

"We hope to bring back these tourists in the coming days when the
anguish over the tragedy has died down. ? [But] we were informed that
all bookings in two major hotels in the city have been canceled since
Tuesday," Gonzales said.

More cancellations

In Manila, the country's tourism sector has started to feel the
effects of Monday's Luneta hostage-taking, with local airlines and
hotels reporting a wave of flight and booking cancellations just days
after the tragedy.

The country's flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) said 558 people
from Hong Kong and other parts of China who were booked to travel to
the Philippines in the next 30 days have canceled their flights to
Manila and other tourist destinations in the country.

At the same time, Gokongwei-led Cebu Pacific reported rebooking and
cancellation requests from about 2 percent of the company's passengers
to Hong Kong.

PAL president Jaime J. Bautista said the company had been swamped by
calls from potential passengers cancelling flights to the country amid
security concerns following Monday's hostage crisis.

"About 90 groups of tourists have canceled flights to the Philippines
from Hong Kong and other parts of China," Bautista said. The groups
are the equivalent of about 558 tourists. Many of the PAL passengers
were headed to Kalibo, the gateway to the island paradise of Boracay.

"Hong Kong is a very important route for PAL," Bautista said. But he
said so far, only flights from China have been affected by the
cancellations.

"PAL is beginning to feel the initial impact of a Hong Kong government
advisory warning its residents to refrain from all travel to the
Philippines," he said.

Worst-case scenario

The worst-case scenario for the company, he said, will be the
reduction of flights to Hong Kong.

About 6 percent of PAL's revenues come from its operations to Hong
Kong. PAL flies to Hong Kong five times a day. The airline also flies
to Macau, Shanghai, Xiamen and Beijing.

For its part, budget carrier Cebu Pacific said several of its
passengers from Hong Kong had also asked to have their flights either
rebooked or canceled.

"As of Aug. 26, we have received rebooking and cancel requests from
less than 2 percent of the total number of passengers for the
airline's Hong Kong routes," the company said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) said
eight hotels and seven resorts had reported requests for cancellations
by tourists from Hong Kong and other parts of China.

This amounts to about 300 rooms in popular tourist destinations like
Bohol, Palawan, Boracay, Cebu and Manila, the PTAA said.

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