Yearender: Philippines tourism industry rises above adversity
Catherine Talavera (The Philippine Star) - January 7, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The local tourism sector has remained relatively unscathed despite the unfortunate incidents that hit the country in 2017 –  the Marawi conflict, the Resorts World Manila attack and the travel warnings issued against the Philippines.

The Philippine economy has remained resilient on the back of its sound fundamentals and a growing tourism sector.

Based on the latest data from the Department of Tourism (DOT), visitor arrivals reached 5.47 million from January to October 2017, up 11.54 percent from the same period in 2016.

“Despite the many challenges we faced last year, we’re very happy with the tourist arrivals,” DOT assistant secretary and spokesperson Frederick Alegre told The Star.

Among the major challenges that plagued the tourism sector last year were security issues brought about by the Marawi conflict in May and the Resorts World Manila attack in June, which led to the issuance of travel advisories against the Philippines.

Security issues slowed down foreign tourist arrivals in June and July, which subsequently affected the hotel sector. 

A number of hotels recorded booking cancellations after the deadly Resorts World attack.

“There were booking cancellations immediately after the Resorts World incident but things are back to normal,” Colliers International research manager Joey Roi Bondoc told The Star.

To quash the negative impact of these unfortunate incidents, the government needs to project a business-as-usual image and ensure that tourism establishments such as hotels, restaurants, and other entertainment facilities implement tighter security measures, Bondoc said.

Bondoc said DOT should also consider sending additional special missions to neighboring traditional markets such as Korea, China, and Japan to quell concerns about safety and security in the country.

“We believe that the government should properly communicate to tourism stakeholders that the extension of martial law in Mindanao is primarily meant to heighten security in the island region and ensure the safety of both residents and tourists,” Bondoc added.

A year of international events

Despite the travel warnings, Alegre said the Philippines managed to show it was a safe destination for tourists given the successful international events it hosted which include the ASEAN Summit in November,  Miss Universe 2017 in January and the United Nation World Tourism Organization 6th International Conference on Tourism Statistics in June.

“The fact that we had global leaders coming in November and met with us and enjoyed our warm hospitality is proof that we are back on the map,” Alegre said.

Alternative destinations

Despite the declaration of martial law in Mindanao, the tourism department continued to promote other destinations in the country such as Palawan and Siargao, which is known for surf tourism.

“The Philippines has collectively more destinations to go to than any other country, at least in Asia,” Alegre said.

John Paolo Rivera, tourism associate director at the Asian Institute of Management  Andrew Tan Center, said other areas in the country may be offered for tourism activities.

Apart from promoting new destinations, the DOT also gave emphasis on various tourism programs — farm tourism, faith-based tourism, cruise tourism and motorcycle tourism.

The agency also revived the Bring Home a Friend program which was first launched in 1994.

Focus on Chinese market

China has been one of the new buzzwords in the Philippine tourism sector in 2017 with the influx of Chinese visitors into the country.

From January to October last year, Chinese arrivals surged to 810,807 or 14.81 percent of the total arrivals. China is currently the Philippines’ second top source market, after South Korea.

For this year, the DOT  expects to attract two million Chinese tourists, driven by the improved diplomatic relations between the Philippines and China as well as the Visa Upon Arrival (VUA) option for Chinese nationals.

Data from the DOT showed that visitor receipts grew 36.28 percent in the first nine months of 2017 to P243.23 billion. China was the top spending market for September with estimated receipts of P10.6 billion.

With the growing number of Chinese tourists, several Chinese charter operators have expressed interest in doing business in the Philippines.

In September 2017, the DOT inked an agreement with Chengdu-based charter operator Hanglv International Travel Group to further boost the thriving route between mainland China and Manila.

Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon Teo said another Chinese group had signified interest to operate chartered flights from Nanning City in China to the Philippines.

Optimistic about 2018

The DOT is optimistic it will exceed its 6.5 million arrivals target for this year.

“We’re looking at around 6.7 million to 6.8 million arrivals,” Alegre said.

Alegre said  2018 would be another fruitful year as the country is expected to host more prestigious events such as the search for the world’s strongest man and the Ironman challenge.

“Given the promotional strategies of the DOT, the infrastructure development in the country, and the lineup of activities that the Philippines will host in the coming years, tourism is expected to sustain its upward trajectory, assuming no natural calamity or severe security issue happens,” Rivera said.

Rivera said the country needs to focus on the big spending tourists.

“We need to capitalize on the increasing number of high-spenders in tourism as well as ecotourists who are willing to spend more than the usual mass tourists and backpackers,” Rivera said.

Alegre said the DOT intends to tap new key markets next year to attract more tourists.

“We need to establish more ways to promote tourism especially through social media,” Alegre said.

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