EVEN as government tries to encourage balikbayans (homecoming Filipinos) to visit family and friends this Christmas season, tour operators are already complaining that their clients have to pay higher airfares and hotel rates during the period.

One veteran tour operator who requested anonymity told the BusinessMirror, “I have balikbayans coming in this November and some in December. But the quarantine hotels increased their rates starting December. It’s a P1,000-difference [from their regular rates].”

The tour operator added, “There is no difference between coming in on December. The guest will still be on lockdown inside the four corners of his room. I’ll understand if they [hotels] will open additional facilities like the swimming pool or the gym and they will spend more on electricity. Are they expecting many arrivals? I don’t know. So I’m gong to talk to the manager tomorrow and ask why the surcharge? Can’t we get the same rate, until all of us recover from this pandemic? I hope government can regulate this!”

This was confirmed by another tour operator, who added, “Airfares are up. Hotels and resorts are annoying [because they’ve raised their rates]. They really can’t better their nature to make money.”

Due to appeals made by tourism stakeholders, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases earlier eased the travel entry requirements for balikbayans

vaccinated abroad. For those coming from the United States or Canada, they only need to present their state or federal vaccination certificates upon arrival in the Philippines. (See, “State vaccination certificates now recognized for entry into the Philippines,” in the BusinessMirror, October 15, 2021.)

‘No X’mas surcharge’

Asked for comment, Philippine Hotel Operators Association (PHOA) Executive Director Benito C. Bengzon said, “Hotels do not impose a Christmas surcharge. The higher rate during Christmas is directed by supply and demand. With a stronger demand, rates are expected to be higher. The tour operators know this.”

He added, “We assure you that hotels have been cooperating with the government and other partners in the private sector in the safe recovery of tourism in the country.” PHOA had no projections for the average increase in occupancy with the return of balikbayans this Christmas season. “Each hotel has its own room occupancy projections depending on the clients targeted, balikbayans included,” said Bengzon.

Data from STR showed average hotel occupancy in the Philippines was at 48 percent, year-to-date to July 2021. Per market basis, hotels in Manila registered the highest occupancy at 70 percent, followed by Quezon City at 65 percent, Muntinlupa and Pasay at 61 percent, Makati at 52 percent, and Mandaluyong/Pasig at 47 percent. Most hotels in Metro Manila are functioning as quarantine hotels, except for a handful which are also certified as multiple-use or staycation hotels.

Meanwhile, Virg Vergara, an LA-based Filipino-American, said he is forgoing going home to Cebu because the airfares are just too expensive. “I just checked PAL, LAX-Cebu—the lowest fare is $1,604 per person from Dec. 17-29,” he said, adding, “My personal threshold is $1,200. So I don’t usually travel peak season. But pre-pandemic, LAX-Cebu in May was $800 per pax.”

He noted that his friend who was supposed to go home to Manila said, “the LAX-Manila fare is $1,900. She was balking at the fare because she was planning to travel with her husband and two kids.”

PAL officials have yet to respond to this paper’s query as of press time.





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