A scene from last year's hostage drama in the Philippines.

MANILA — The Philippines' tourism industry has lost an estimated US$12 million in revenue after Hong Kong issued a black travel alert to the Philippines, right after a bungled hostage rescue last year that led to the deaths of eight of its nationals.

Under Hong Kong's Outbound Travel Alert System, Hong Kong residents are advised to avoid all travel to the Philippines, including Syria, due to the severe threat in these countries.

The black alert prevented Hong Kong travel agents from selling package tours to the Philippines.

However, tourist arrivals in the Philippines reached an all time high of 3.52 million last year despite the bus hijacking incident.

Benito Bengzon, assistant secretary for International Tourism Promotions, Department of Tourism, said: "Compared to the same figure in 2010, we're down 21 per cent.

"The decrease can be attributed largely to the black travel alert which is still in effect.

"Hong Kong has always been a very strong market for the Philippines, and we would like to continuously and actively engage our partners from the travel trade."

The Department of Tourism has been negotiating with Hong Kong for the removal or downgrading of the black travel alert, assuring the territory of the reforms made to ensure the safety and security of foreign visitors.

The tourism department is now preparing to hold a familiarisation tour for Hong Kong travel agents in September in an effort to lure back Hong Kong visitors.

"It will give us the chance to show them that we are ready to handle foreign visitors.

"It will also be a good opportunity for us to showcase some of the new measures that we have introduced, particularly the top cop program - a tourist oriented police for community order and protection. (This) should give them an assurance that there will be police to look after them.

"Hong Kong is a very important source market, and we feel that the Philippines continues to be a preferred and attractive destination," Mr Bengzon added.

With the security reforms being made to ensure the safety of tourists in the country, the Philippines is hoping they would be able to double the number of tourist arrivals to 6 million by 2016.

- CNA/ck