PH on track to reaching tourism targets

By Annie G. Cuevas

DESPITE the series of disasters that struck some of the Philippines’ tourist destinations, officials of the Department of Tourism remains optimistic hat the tourism industry will continue to grow this year and become one of the major drivers of the economy.

In the first two months of 2014, some 884,000 foreign tourists visited the Philippines, which represented a 3.49% over the same period last year. With the super typhoon Yolanda and the strong earthquake that hit eastern and central Visayas in the last quarter of last year, some industry leaders were worried they would negatively impact tourist arrivals in the early part of this year.

But just as the people of Leyte, Samar, Bohol and other disaster-struck provinces, the tourism industry showed its resilience and emerged triumphant above the adversity. The recovery became evident in January when 461,383 visitors were recorded for a 5.80% increase while the month of February provided 422,631 visitors for a growth of 1.08%.

As expected, visitors from Asia supplied the most visitors, accounting for 60.71% with Korea, China and Japan from the East Asia sub-region leading the volume. ASEAN countries presented significant growth in absolute terms with a 7.04% increase. The Americas and Europe comprised 18.33% and 11.35% respectively, of the total.

The year 2013 closed out remarkably well with nearly 4.7 million foreign visitors, almost maintaining the average increase of 10% registered on a month-to-month basis since the “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign was launched.

“Our key source markets generally performed well during the month of December, proof that international confidence has been regained. The Philippines is profoundly grateful for the outpouring of support, aid, and goodwill from all over the world. They were all instrumental in our road to recovery,” Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez said in a statement.

The DOT said total revenues gained from inbound visitors went up 15% to an estimated $4.40 billion (or P186.15 billion) for 2013. The average length of stay of visitors remained at 9.6 nights, with visitors from the US having the longest stay at 13.4 nights.

Inbound tourists also increased their average daily expenditure by 8.7% to $101.12. Koreans spent the most at $140.81 per day.

Secretary Jimenez said he expects more foreign visitors to the Philippines this year as well.

“Our main cities will also play host to a great number of international conferences and events, which include the 5th World Ecotourism Conference in Cebu this February and WEF East Asia Summit in May. More importantly, this year exerts extra pressure on our government, industry, and civil society to prepare for Visit the Philippines Year (VPY) 2015, which will feature a calendar of events and an exciting mix of activities inviting all to come and partake of the more fun promise in the Philippines,” he said.

According to Secretary Jimenez, there are still a lot of opportunities that await the Philippines in terms of tapping new markets. He said, “2014 direction is for us to increase and secure momentum by opening up new markets such as Eastern and Northern Europe.”

He noted that the government is committed to spend billions of pesos to develop the necessary infrastructure to support the tourism industry. He noted that 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, up from P12 billion budget last 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, which, among others, call for the development of a Tourism Road Infrastructure Program (TRIP).

“Before there is no specific budget for tourism roads. Now, we have adequate budget,” Secretary Jimenez said, adding 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.

With all these in place, plus the sustained aggressive marketing campaign throughout the world, the country should be on its way to achieving the 10-million target for tourist arrivals by 2016.

(Ms. Annie Cuevas-Lim is regional director of the Philippine Department of Tourism-Los Angeles Office.)