ILOILO CITY—Ati-atihan dancers with their rhythmic drumming welcomed more than 2,700 Chinese tourists and crew of a cruise ship that stopped over briefly on Boracay yesterday.
The passengers and crew of the MS Legend of the Seas, operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises, stayed on the world-famous resort island about seven hours before departing for Xiamen City in China, according to Helen Catalbas, Department of Tourism (DOT) Western Visayas director.
The Legend of the Seas was the first cruise ship to visit the Philippines since President Duterte took office on July 1. It was also the first visit of a big Chinese tour group since a United Nations arbitral tribunal ruled in July that the Philippines had exclusive sovereign rights over disputed portions of the South China Sea.
China protested the ruling which invalidated its “nine-dash line” claim covering nearly the entire South China Sea, including parts of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
President Duterte has said he is open to bilateral talks with China to settle the territorial dispute.
Tourism officials welcomed the Chinese tourists.
“Tourism goes beyond politics,” Catalbas told the Inquirer, adding the DOT was glad the Chinese came to visit.
She said the number of tourists from China dropped slightly in August after the ruling of the international tribunal but it soon recovered and has continued to grow.
The cruise ship, which also visited Manila on Friday, arrived in Boracay early on Saturday and docked between Boracay island and the Aklan mainland. The passengers and crew started to disembark from the ship around 7:30 a.m.
They were transported to a ponton attached to the Cagban port where a brief welcome ceremony was led by Assistant Tourism Secretary Gwen Cads-Javier.
The welcome party handed out leis and brochures to the tourists while about 15 Ati dancers performed.
The tourists transferred to motorboats for island-hopping and water activities. About 50 vans took them on a tour of the island, to the famous four-kilometer white beach and shopping.
The tourists were a mix of retirees, families and young professionals.
Catalbas said the ship had many Filipino crew members and about 300 of their family members arrived on Boracay to meet up with their loved ones.
Organizers implemented a special rerouting scheme to ensure an organized and safe transfer of the Chinese tourists. They were provided special access at the port separate from other tourists.
Security and safety measures were tightened by the Boracay Tourist Assistance Center, Coast Guard and Maritime Industry Authority, among others.
“Our aim is to leave an impression that Western Visayas is a place of warm-welcoming people and a safe haven for tourists,” Catalbas said in a statement.
Next to Koreans, the Chinese comprise the biggest tourist market of the Western Visayas.
Last year, 183,708 Chinese visited Western Visayas, mainly Boracay. Tourists from Korea numbered 331,269, according to data from the DOT in Western Visayas.
Taiwan sent 59,343 tourists followed by the United States, 39,379, and Malaysia, 36,158.
A rondalla played at tourists Cagban port as the Chinese began returning to the ship at around 3:30 p.m. for their return trip to Xiamen.