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Philippines says it will meet tourist target for the year, despite bus hijack

MANILA, December 21, 2010 (AFP) – The Philippines said Tuesday it was optimistic of achieving its target of 3.3 million tourist arrivals this year, even after a deadly bus hijacking and terrorism warnings by key Western nations.

January-October arrivals rose 15.85 percent from a year earlier to 2.84 million tourists, putting the full-year target within range, Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim said in a statement.

The Philippines attracted about three million tourists last year, the laggard in a tropical region of white-sand beaches where neighbors routinely draw double or triple those numbers.

“Growth in some markets boosted the performance vis-a-vis last year’s. We are looking at roughly an additional 455,000 tourists which November and December as traditional peak months can deliver,” Lim said.

He said the Philippines campaigned in key markets such as China, Russia, Japan, Britain and the United States after it was blacklisted by Hong Kong following the deaths of eight Hong Kong tourists in an August bus hijacking.

It also worked to improve tourist security with the deployment of special police units in popular tourist areas, Tourism Undersecretary Maria Victoria Jasmin said.

“The goal is to see a 2,000-strong tourist police force by 2011 to be responsible for the safety and security requirements in the top 14 destinations,” she said, including Manila, Cebu, Boracay, Bohol and Palawan.

After the Manila bus hijacking fiasco, in which police bungled a rescue attempt after a disgraced ex-police officer took a busload of tourists hostage, the Philippines was hit by warnings of an imminent terror attack.

The government robustly disputed the basis of the travel advisories issued by Australia, Britain, Canada, France, New Zealand and the United States.

Australia and France subsequently revised the advisories to remove references to an imminent attack.

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