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MANILA, Philippines - Despite ongoing tensions between the Philippines and China over a group of islets in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), the number of Chinese visitors to the Philippines jumped a staggering 59.07 percent in the first five months of 2012.
Data from the Department of Tourism showed Chinese tourist arrivals increased to 138,466 from January to May 2012, making them the fourth largest tourism market for the Philippines. That growth also exceeded the 21.5-percent increase recorded in January-May 2011, indicating continued strong interest by mainland Chinese in the Philippines.
DOT officials hope the current “ban” by tour operators in China to the Philippines would be lifted soon. The unofficial ban was put in place by the tour operators last May 10, as tensions escalated between the two countries over the disputed Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal).
A number of hotels and resorts in Clark, Pampanga; Boracay Island, Aklan; and Cebu City recorded booking cancellations, with fears that the ban would extend until January 2013. (See “China tourist booking cancellations extend until Jan. 2013,” InterAksyon.com, May 16, 2012.)
Chinese tourists accounted for a 7.61-percent market share of the 1.82-million total tourist arrivals in the five-month period. The number of total visitors rose 13.05 percent from the same period last year. Of the total arrivals, 93,814 were visiting overseas Filipino workers, the same DOT data showed.
On a monthly basis, however, the increase in tourist arrivals narrowed to 6.35 percent in May 2012 from 10.19 percent in April, a continuing dip since the 16.9 percent growth in arrivals in March.
Still, President Aquino has expressed confidence the Philippines would exceed its 4.6-million tourist arrivals target this year. “In the first five months of 2012 alone, we welcomed over 1.8 million tourists. This number is more than half of the yearly average of three million arrivals in the years before we took office. This number is also 39.6 percent of the 4.6 million tourist arrivals we hope to get this year—and historically, we get even more visitors in the second half of the year. If all goes as planned, it seems that we will achieve, and maybe even breach this target,” he told over 400 participants of the Ambassadors, Consuls General, and Tourism Directors Tour who paid a courtesy call on him last Friday at the Malacañan Palace.
Visitors' number target revised upward
The 4.6 million visitors target is an upward revision from the 4.2-million target announced by the DOT in the beginning of the year.
DOT statistics showed that Koreans continued to be the top tourism market for the Philippines, accounting for 21.83 percent of total visitor arrivals in the first five months of 2012. Korean tourists grew 12.41 percent to 397,170.
In second place were visitors from the U.S., who were up 5.26 percent to 298,355 and accounted for 16.4 percent of total arrivals. Arrivals from Japan were in third place at 167,410, with an increase of 7.11 percent from the same period last year, and representing 9.2 percent of market share.
Other tourism markets
Other major tourism markets for the Philippines were: Taiwan with 93,855 arrivals, representing a 5.16- percent share; Australia, 79,020 (4.34 percent); Singapore, 60,136 (3.3 percent); Canada, 58,868 (3.23 percent); United Kingdom, 50,327 (2.77 percent); Hong Kong, 48,849 (2.68 percent); Malaysia, 41,038 (2.26 percent); and Germany, 30,545 (1.68 percent).
President Aquino attributed the significant improvement in tourist arrivals to the adoption by his administration of the “Pocket Open Skies” policy, which opened up provincial airports to international flights.
The policy “generated almost a 15-percent increase in incoming and outgoing flights to the Philippines from January to June of this year. This has led to a similar increase in inbound and outbound passenger traffic growth for both international and domestic travelers,” he said.
He also told the ACGTDT delegates from the U.S. and Canada, that the government has been increasing its infrastructure spending in major tourism areas, having allocated P9.4 billion in 2011 and 2012 to construct, rehabilitate, and improve roads to tourist destinations. This effort, he said, is being complemented by a major upgrade of primary and secondary airports, seaports, and the improvement of the country’s air traffic control system.
“So, in a few years, we should all be able to take advantage of the New Bohol Airport in Panglao, the New Legaspi Airport in Daraga, and the Laguindingan Airport in Misamis Oriental, all of which should be up and running by the time I’m a private citizen and allowed to travel across the country. Not to mention the upgrading of the Mactan Cebu International Airport, the Puerto Princesa Airport, and quite a whole lot of others.”
He likewise cited the awarding of the Puerto Princesa Underground River as one of the “New 7 Wonders of Nature,” which has been attracting a continuing deluge of both foreign and local tourists.
By 2015, Aquino said, he will be inaugurating a new connector road for the North Luzon and South Luzon Expressways, which would cut travel time from Clark to Calamba, Laguna in an hour and 15 minutes.
“There is a proposal also for a new nautical highway which will bring down travel time from Luzon to Mindanao using the nautical highway from the current three days to 15 hours,” he said.
The 7th ACGTDT is a joint project of the Department of Foreign Affairs and DOT, in partnership with ground tour handler Rajah Tours. It was conceived in 2005 by then Ambassador to Washington, and now DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario.
“The idea essentially is to invite Filipinos in North America especially those who have not come home in a long time to do so to see the recent developments in the country. The highlight of the tour is the courtesy call on the President and a tour of Malacañan Palace. Meanwhile, the tours [around the country] are designed to provide a fun, enjoyable and memorable experience for the participants,” DOT spokesman, Assistant Secretary Benito Bengzon, Jr. told InterAksyon.com.
The ACGTDT comes on the heels of the successful launching by the DOT of the Philippines’ new campaign slogan, “It’s more fun in the Philippines,” in key destinations in Asia, the U.S., and UK.
The Chief Executive asked the ACGTDT delegates to continue supporting Philippine tourism. “I have always believed that each Filipino is an ambassador of his country, and perhaps this is true especially for many of you gathered here today. You may have built new lives and found your places in new communities, but you also continue to maintain strong ties to the motherland. You are the ones who have seen and experienced our fiestas and festivals firsthand, you know how warm and accommodating our people are, and you know exactly what the Philippines has to offer. At the end of the day, it is you that your friends and family in the United States, Canada, and Guam will believe when you tell them, ‘It’s more fun in the Philippines.’”
The Aquino administration is pinning its hopes tourism sector to help it attain widespread economic growth, as the manufacturing/export and agricultural sectors continue to grapple with a global slowdown in purchases, as well as inherent structural inefficiencies.
“Tourism is one of the sectors we are paying particular attention to, because it is one in which we can successfully pursue our agenda of inclusive growth, given the multiplier effect on jobs and the amount of money it brings into our country,” Aquino explained to the ACGTDT participants. “For example, in 2011, foreign tourist receipts amounted to almost $3 billion—$3 billion that went to the family-run bed and breakfasts that housed them, to the drivers of their buses and vans, to the owners of souvenir shops, and to many other Filipinos who, in one way or another, cater to tourists.”
The Aquino administration is aiming to attract 10 million foreign tourists by 2016, and is currently promoting the country via TV ads on CNN, billboards in the UK and the US, and participation in major travel fairs and exhibitions in other major tourist markets.
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