YEARENDER: Optimism in tourism: It’s still more fun in the Philippines

Published by rudy Date posted on December 29, 2013

MANILA, Philippines – A new trend has been set in the country’s tourism industry this year, despite a number of natural calamities that caused tourism authorities to doubt if they could meet the five million foreign tourists arrival target for 2013.

Generally, this year was a good one for the tourism sector as it was able to hit record highs which have not been achieved in the past, said Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr.

“The definite highlight of the year is the mid-year report shows 350,000 to 400,000 foreign arrivals a month is the ‘new normal’ for Philippine tourism,” he said.

Over the first nine months, the Department of Tourism (DOT) has been registering an increasing number of international tourists arriving in the country.

Tourist arrivals reached 3.5 million from January to September, up 11.4 percent from 3.1 million in the same period last year and represents 64 percent of the five-million target for 2013.

As monthly foreign arrival levels have been growing compared to the comparative months in 2012, Jimenez said he is highly optimistic this trend would be sustained in the coming year.

“Even given some setbacks later in the year, this trend augurs well for the growth of tourism in the future,” the DOT chief said.

According to Jimenez, setbacks should be treated as a challenge to continue to strive for a better tourism industry.

He believes there are so many things that need to be carried out in this sector and the Filipino people should be one in continuing to pursue efforts in promoting the Philippines as a prime destination for tourists.

The DOT chief said there are still a lot of opportunities that await the Philippines in terms of tapping new markets.

“2014 direction is for us to increase and secure momentum by opening up new markets such as Eastern and Northern Europe,” he said.

His optimism for a better 2014 is anchored on government’s continuing thrust to put in more budget for the improvement of tourism infrastructure.

Under the special convergence program with the Department of Public Works and Highways ( DPWH), the DOT intends to spend some P17 billion in 2014 for tourism-related infrastructure projects particularly for tourism road projects, up from P12 billion budget this year.

Last year, the DOT forged an agreement with DPWH to boost tourism infrastructure in priority tourists destination areas under the Convergence Program for Enhancing Tourism Access.

The agreement calls for, among others, the development of Tourism Road Infrastructure Program (TRIP) criteria led by DOT, and identified Convergence Champions to provide policy guidelines and supervision in formulating the TRIP.

“Before there is no specific budget for tourism roads. Now, we have adequate budget,” Jimenez said, noting that all projects to be funded are included in the country’s National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP).

NTDP aims to provide a strategic framework and outline action plan to guide the DOT and other stakeholders in the development of the tourism sector between 2011 and 2016.

Most of the areas that have been identified under the SCP this year would include Cordillera, Palawan and other places in the Visayas like Cebu and Bohol.

But with the recent developments, Jimenez said they are reviewing the NTDP to re-align some budget to help for the reconstruction and rebuilding of tourism spots in the calamities-stricken areas.

The private sector, on the other hand, has also vowed to help the government in this endeavor.

The Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA), which has over 160 members, said it would be looking at ways to assist tourist destinations that have been heavily affected by natural calamities.

“Specifically, we are eyeing to help restore Spanish-era churches in Bohol that were affected by the earthquake. We are also looking into how we can assist Cebu, Leyte, and Tacloban. We have member companies that have direct or indirect businesses in those areas,” PTAA president John Paul Cabalza said.

PTAA has also shared DOT’s optimism of brighter tourism prospects for next year.

“The PTAA sees 2013 as a glitch in the overall tourism plan of the government because of the various calamities that hit key tourist destinations. However, we believe that will all the attention the country is getting internationally, we see 2014 as a banner year for the country’s tourism industry,” Cabalza said.

Calbalza said the PTAA has been a main proponent of the Passengers Bill of Rights and is now part of the technical working group that is working on the amendments to the Passport Act of 1996. The association has always made it a priority to protect the traveling public.

The PTAA, Cabalza said, is currently in the middle of preparations for the 21st staging of our flagship project – the annual Travel Tour Expo. The three-day expo to open on February 14 will have five halls at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay and will house all the major international and domestic players in the tourism industry that will be offering attractive packages to visitors. For the first time in the history of the Travel Tour Expo, the PTAA is staging the expo using in-house resources.

The PTAA president said they are also looking forward to the Philippines regaining its Category 1 status from the United States. This would mean more two-way flights between the two sides.

“Effectively, this would further increase tourist arrivals in the country and provide travel agencies with more business opportunities. We are not only seeing Philippine Airlines (PAL) as the only airline going to key cities in the USA. Cebu Pacific is strongly positioned as well,” he said.

“The return of PAL to Europe is also something the PTAA is very much excited as it means more seats to sell and new opportunities for our members. The association has been very supportive of the national carrier with member travel agencies even involved in co-promotion of several key destinations,” Cabalza added.

For his part, Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) chief operating officer Domingo Ramon Enerio III said TPB would be also putting more attention in promoting the Philippines as a prime destination among its neighboring countries.

“We want to continue with our positioning as a competitive destination in Southeast Asia. We want to showcase what is positive and beautiful about this country,” Enerio said.

Enerio also enjoined all Filipinos to help in the reconstruction and rebuilding of the Philippines’ image as a very attractive tourism destination among the Asian countries.

“(We) continuously tap as many markets as possible. and we will not let up on the programs and projects and other activities that will really propel the image of the country as a favorable destination despite all challenges that we faced, its been a good year,” Enerio said.

“It continues to be a very lucrative industry for Filipinos to continuously support for the international market to continuously enjoy,” the TPB chief said.

Asked what to expect next year, Enerio said, “we want to be more aggressive with our campaign “It’s More Fun in the Philippines.”

He said another area they would focus on is promoting the Philippines as an ideal venue for MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibition).

“We may have to decide on different track but certainly this track will be even more strong compared what we are currently doing. We want to feature MICE and we are expecting very big events coming next year. We open with partnership with many institutions and other media partners,” he said.

With an increased budget for 2014 to P1.5 billion from P1 billion in 2013, TPB head said “we are aggressively chasing the business and that would be the role of the DOT through the TPB.”

Enerio said aside from M.I.C.E, cruise tourism is also slowly contributing to the tourism growth in the country.

“Philippines is becoming a part of cruise programs in Southeast Asia of big cruise ships,” he said, noting that famous luxury liners are now docking in Manila, Boracay and Palawan bringing in more tourists in to the Philippines’ prime tourism spots.

The cruise tourism is an addition to the roster of tourism avenues being promoted by the DOT which also include: medical tourism, social tourism, food tourism and others.

International studies show that the Philippines has been part of top travel trends for 2013.

According to the annual Travel Trends report of Skyscanner, the world’s fastest growing global travel search site, the Philippines’ key cities have been receiving a growing number of foreign visitors.

The Travel Trends showed that the following key cities in the Philippines also received quite a number of domestic tourists: Manila, Cebu, Kalibo, Puerto Princesa, Davao.

“The trends we saw this 2013 prove that Filipinos are becoming more reasonable yet adventurous travelers,” says Janet Ranola, Skyscanner Philippines Manager. “The popularity of travel search engines such as Skyscanner makes flight search easier, possible, pocket-friendly, and convenient with just a click of a button.”

While Manila is still the most popular Philippine destination, provinces known for its pristine beaches make it to the top ten local destinations, according to Skyscanner study.

“It isn’t that surprising that Kalibo and Caticlan make it to the list as its local government announced a 1.5 million tourist target this year, following the 1.2 million registered last year. Other popular provinces, Cebu and Puerto Princesa, Palawan, which have been attracting quite a few travellers over the past few years, receive top marks by making it to the top five destinations,” Ranola said.

“What’s interesting is that travelers are looking at other provinces known for their beaches as well such as Iloilo and Angeles, which round up the top 10,” Ranola added.

It will still be More fun in the Philippines

To definitely live up to its tourism shootout “It’s More Fun in the Philippines, Jimenez said DOT would work out new programs and projects to boost tourism arrival levels.

“The great majority of touristic products are available, whether one is looking for a beach vacation, historical trip, gastronomic tour, or one of the many other possible travel opportunities,” he said.

“The country is home to some of the world’s great tourist sites and adventures with its unparalleled natural wonders, spectacular beaches, world-renowned heritage sites, modern shopping complexes, rich biodiversity, culture, and history,” he added.

Jimenez is hopeful that tourism revenues would continue to grow next year.

For this year alone, tourism receipts or the money spent by foreign visitors in traveling to the country, is seen to reach $4.95 billion.

For 2014, it is expected that the receipts would further increase to $6.07 billion. –Donnabelle L. Gatdula (The Philippine Star)

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