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Foul-ups in SEA Games reception could impact Asean tourist arrivals

COMPLAINTS about the poor reception and hotel accommodations by countries participating in this year’s Southeast Asian Games are bound to affect the perception of the Philippines by would-be tourists from the Asean region.

This even as tourism stakeholders had batted for an Asean desk at the Department of Tourism (DOT) to particularly attract and step up the growth of visitors from neighboring Southeast Asian nations.

Seasoned tour operator Jose C. Clemente III, president of Rajah Tours Philippines, took to social media on Sunday decrying the apparently disorganized way some foreign athletes had been received at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia). “Reading the news about the delayed transfers of athletes and being brought to the wrong hotel irks me as a tour operator. This is a job we do everyday.

“Events like these are something we prepare for over and over again to ensure that we do it right and that our tourists or convention delegates have a pleasant and seamless experience,” he posted on Facebook.

FOX Sports Asia tweeted late Saturday about how the “Timor-Leste football team were left stranded at the airport and later taken to the wrong hotel by SEA Games 2019 organizers.” On Sunday, it reported the Myanmar football team were having issues as well with “cramped team buses,” after waiting at the airport “for a very long time.”

In other published reports, the Thai football team also brought up inadequate accommodations as they had to triple-share in twin-sharing accommodations. They also said they had to cancel football practice because organizers scheduled it in Biñan, Laguna, two hours away from Century Park Hotel where they were billeted.

Photos of the Cambodian athletes sleeping on the floor of what appeared to be a conference room also went viral on Saturday. It was later disclosed that the hotel they were billeted in wasn’t ready to accommodate them as they arrived earlier than the usual 2 pm check-in time.

‘No excuses’

Malacañang on Sunday offered no excuses and apologized to the athlete-guests from Timor-Leste, Myanmar and Cambodia for the inconvenience they experienced.

Presidential Spokesman and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador S. Panelo said, “We can no longer undo what has been done. The Office of the President will not offer any excuses. As host country, we apologize for the unintentional inconvenience suffered by our athlete-guests.”

While the Palace said they cannot promise a hitch-free hosting of Sea Games, Panelo said they are taking Phisgoc’s word that they will do better moving forward. 

“We are not promising that the Games will run without a hitch, given the countless athletes who will participate and represent their respective countries, but we will exercise due diligence in making sure everyone will have a pleasant, productive and memorable stay in the Philippines,” he said. 

Short-haul markets

In 2018, arrivals from Asean grew by 8.6 percent to 530,321, led by Singapore (168,637) and Malaysia (143,566). But from January to September this year, arrivals from Asean dipped by 3.03 percent, led by decreases  from Brunei (down 16.5 percent), Singapore (-9.28 percent), Indonesia (-9.61 percent), Thailand (-5.08 percent), and Malaysia (-3.11 percent).

DOT Spokesman and Undersecretary for Tourism Development Planing Benito C. Bengzon Jr. earlier said they committed to tourism stakeholders they would “deliberately chase short-haul markets” such as Asean. (See, “DOT seeks higher arrivals from Asean,” in the BusinessMirror, July 1, 2019.)

Clemente, who is also president of the Tourism Congress of the Philippines, had earlier suggested to the DOT to set up an Asean desk to focus on marketing efforts in the region. Of the poor reception for the SEA Games 2019, he told the BusinessMirror, “there will be some blowback [in arrivals from Asean], hurt and criticism. However, if the Phisgoc (Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee Foundation Inc.) can get its act together immediately, this could still be mitigated. At this point, there should pour their efforts on recovery. There’s still time to do it, albeit a small window.”

In a news statement on Sunday, Phisgoc apologized for the “inconvenience” experienced by the Timor-Leste, Myanmar, and Cambodia teams regarding the confusion over transportation arrangements and accommodations.

Other tourism stakeholders disclosed that transport companies had complained of having difficulties in dealing with Phisgoc. “They blocked off vehicles but they weren’t being paid. So they ended up canceling [the reservations].” 

On Facebook, Clemente added, “After reading the statements of Phisgoc about [Saturday’s] screw-ups, I am further convinced that had they enlisted the proper agencies to handle the arrangements, it would have gone smoother.

“The wrong hotel situation could have been easily resolved had the information been double-checked on arrival. With regard to the Cambodian team having to wait for their rooms, Phisgoc could have prebooked their rooms the night before or negotiated with the hotel for an early check-in. For the late transfers of the Timor Leste team… again, simple double-checking and reconfirmation of details would have easily addressed this.” He stressed all these problems were “avoidable.”

Netizens over the weekend pointed out the Philippines had no issues such as those experienced by this year’s foreign athletes when it hosted three other SEA Games in 1981, 1991, and 2005. They also noted that the Philippines has had several successes hosting other sporting events and conferences involving  numerous international delegates like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forums, Asean meetings, World Economic Forum, and just last year, the Asian Development Bank Board of Governors meeting.

Phisgoc, headed by now House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, earlier drew flak for building a P56-million cauldron at the New Clark City, which would be lit up for the SEA Games opening ceremony.

With a report from Bernadette D. Nicolas

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