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Freight firms see boom times this Christmas despite pandemic

10 November 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao 

OFWs unable to go home for Christmas are sending goods instead

Despite an overall downturn in the economy, Filipino freight forwarders in Hong Kong are seeing good business this Christmas season as more migrant workers are sending door-to-door boxes to their loved ones, likely because of their inability to go home for the holidays.

At least two key industry players say business has improved considerably in recent months, despite the slowdown in February to June, when Hong Kong was gripped by coronavirus-related fears.

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AFreight, widely regarded as the foremost Filipino freight forwarding company in Hong Kong, said that this peak season, which began in October, it has managed to fill five 40-foot containers boxes on Sundays.

This volume is double the two to three container boxes that it managed to ship home on Sundays in the first half of the year, said Rosabelle Woolf, AFreight’s country manager in Hong Kong.

Woolf says business volume has doubled since last month

Another veteran forwarding company, Asian Dragon, also noted an increase in the number of boxes it has so far shipped out this season.

Owner and manager Cora Ong said the company, which is located at City Garden in North Point, was able to fill one container box last Sunday, and between two to three containers in one week during this high season.

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“Ordinarily, it would take us one week to fill a container,” Ong told The SUN today, Nov 10. “But the high season is nearly over.”

The business growth was visible last Sunday when a large section of Chater Road and areas under the footbridges connecting World-Wide House to other buildings in Central were used by door-to-door companies and OFWs to pack balikbayan boxes.

Woolf says AFreight has been telling its customers to pack their boxes at any of their 15 outlets nearest their locations so as to avoid the congestion in Central, especially now that strict health protocols are being enforced to fight the pandemic.  

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“This year, we encouraged early packing so the door-to-door boxes will reach the workers’ families before Christmas and avoid the seasonal port congestion in Manila,” Woolf said in a telephone conversation.

“We have an early cut-off date of Nov 22 for shipments to the regions and Dec 1 for Metro Manila,” Woolf said, adding that late shipments won’t reach the recipients on time.

AFreight gave additional price discounts in October so that its customers would be enticed to pack and send their boxes early.

Woolf said this time of the year, the Port of Manila gets congested because Customs personnel are overwhelmed by the sheer number of containers with shipments that need to be cleared before they get sent to warehouses of freight companies.

Her concern about port congestion in Manila was shared by Ong, who said the usually two-day Customs clearance would take 3 to 4 days when the port clogs.

Ong said the delay at Customs would cause a delay down the line, as vessels that transship the containers to regional ports would have also to line up for slots at the berths to load.

Ong says port congestion could  hold up boxes meant to be sent before Christmas

Asian Dragon has no cut-off dates and no promotional prices for its customers, Ong said, adding that the freight forwarder just continues accepting packages at usual prices.

But at this time, she said that her company can no longer assure that boxes sent outside of Metro Manila could reach their destination before Christmas because of the port congestion.

She said her customers are mostly “suki,” or habitual clients, who she maintains through direct contact and good relationship. “As long as you deliver their boxes and treat them well, they stay with you,” she said.  

As for AFreight, which began serving the Filipino community in Hong Kong 35 years ago, Woolf said its principal advantage has always been its satisfied customers.

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