By Lily O Ramos
MANILA (PNA) â€“ Tourism as sunshine industry is growing despite problems and the tragic Aug. 23, 2010 hostage incident where some Hong Kong tourists perished in the hands of a gunman.
The fact that foreign tourist arrivals topped 1.3-million mark in the first four months of 2011, surpassing last yearâ€™s total of 3.52 million, makes the Department of Tourism (DOT) confident that the number of visitors from overseas this year will further continue to increase .
From January to April 2011, the country registered a 13.33 percent increase in foreign visitors, compared with the same period of 2010, according to DOT Secretary Alberto Aldaba Lim, who said that the 3.74 million target for the year is well within reach due to his officeâ€™s continuing efforts on the international front campaign, especially on trade fairs.
Increases recorded by almost all regional markets, including best-performing East Asia, accounting for Philippine tourisms double-digit growth.
South Korea expectedly led the charge by contributing 286,018 tourists to the regions total of 581,551 — representing 28.35 percent and 18.90 percent increases from the same period last year, respectively.
Top individual markets remained static with Korea, the United States of America (229,200) and Japan (129,223) repeating as the three most robust.
Combined, the three countries accounted for almost half of all foreign visitors in the first four months of 2011.
Taiwan was the regions biggest gainer by registering a 42.68 percent upshot from the same period in 2010 for 55,662 visitors, while Chinas 71,113 tourists were good for an 18.54 percent gain.
North America, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Australasia/Pacific provided 274,613, 103,715 and 73,483 arrivals within the periodwith all improvements from 2010s (+10.31 percent, +10.04 percent and +16.25 percent).
Northern and Western Europe posted similar figures of 60,098 and 58,202 arrivals, respectivelythus buoying up from 2010s (+10.02 percent and +4.7 percent).
In other regional markets, South Asia and Eastern Europe, which include emerging single markets India and Russia, surged 43.72 percent and 28.44 percent, respectively, to earn most-improved honors.
This could be attributed to the countryâ€™s having a lower cost of living within a comfortable sphere like lower prices of food and rentals for temporary residential places, i.e, hotels, restaurants and services.
Aside from that, Filipinos understand and speak English well and are innately hospitable and good to foreign tourists who take delight in our more than 7,000 islands beautifully spread all over seas.
Many tourists are also discovering that the Philippines is offering medical tourism treatment that is much cheaper than in Singapore, Hong Kong or Korea. This includes medical surgery for wellness-being, beauty and aesthetics like plastic surgery which is a much-sought after procedure for the new-moneyed youth generation and older ones who want to look their physical best much longer.
The Philippines is also gearing up itself as a shopping spree center for quality but less expensive goods being sold in Asian shopping places like Hong Kong or Singapore. This has been made possible with SM, Robinsons, Gaisano, Rustanâ€™s and other builders well-financed and owned by local and foreign business entities.
Whatâ€™s more, DOT is moving and in bullish mood to attract Filipinos abroad to come and visit their homeland, particularly those who have been born and raised overseas since birth. DOT is actively promoting â€˜Pinoy Homecoming Yearsâ€™ with private and public sectors chipping in from all sides.
Theâ€œPinoy Homecoming Yearsâ€ campaign
President Benigno S. Aquino IIIs signing Proclamation No. 181 declaring the years 2011 to 2016 as â€œPinoy Homecomingâ€ years is fully supported for implementation by the DOT, according to Secretary Lim.
Through Proclamation No. 181 and Republic Act No. 6768 as amended by R.A. 9174 or the Balikbayan Program, overseas Filipinos are given special privileges and benefits in recognition of their contributions to the growth of the economy in terms of foreign exchange inflow and remittances.
With the overseas Filipino workers community continuing to expand worldwide, the government extends its support to the countrys modern day heroes.
The Proclamation also aims to boost local tourism by attracting and encouraging the overseas community to visit the Philippines, reunite with their families and enjoy their homeland anytime of the year.
We foresee a substantial increase to Philippine tourism in the next five years and so on with the countrys progress evidently seen.
More developments in hotels and resorts are happening in tourist spots all over the country, roads are being improved and being built where there used to be none and aviation has favored more travelers with affordable fares and more flights to choose from.
We would like to support President Aquino in his vision to prioritize our Filipino kababayans abroad upon their return and enjoy their homeland for visits,â€ said Lim.
The Pinoy Homecoming campaign targets an increase of 25 percent in visitor arrivals from North America-Canada and the United States which are the most common points of origin for 2011 over last years figures. In 2009 alone, they made up 22 percent of total arrivals.
The North American markets rank a high second in terms of arrivals and about 60 percent of them are either Fil-Americans or Fil-Canadians.
Focusing on these two countries will make the most impact in terms of revenues and we intend to develop this particular market segment group, said Lim.
Moreover, the DOT has partnered with Duty Free Philippines Corporation (DFPC) and communications giant Globe Telecom to support the said proclamation and support the DOTs balikbayan program.
The DOT, DFPC and Globe Telecom are set to launch campaigns that will become the driving force to encourage overseas Filipinos, especially overseas Filipino organizations and business groups, to travel to the Philippines for reunions, conferences, missions or vacations.
The campaign aims to drive up tourism and appreciation for the Philippines as well as to encourage expansion and investments and create opportunities for more Filipinos, both locally and abroad.
Chief operating officer of DFPC Lorenzo C. Formoso said: Through the Pinoy Homecoming program, the DFPC continues to demonstrate its commitment to boost development for the countrys tourism and to give balikbayans an efficient shopping experience with all the warmth and hospitality of home.
DOT looks to the future
So what are the DOTâ€™s moves as it anticipates double tourist arrival to 6.3 million international arrivals and 32 million domestic travelers by 2016?
Secretary Lim said he is enjoining the tourism industry sector, regional and local government executives and stakeholders all over the country to take a look at the National Tourism Development Plan where some P800 million has been earmarked for the development of domestic tourism.
Domestic tourists last year counted 18 million because of competitive lower-priced airline tickets offered by Cebu Pacific and the Philippine Airlines where locals can afford to save money and spend their money seeing the countryâ€™s nice and virgin places from north to south.
Top domestic tourist destinations for 22.8 million Filipinos since 2009 are Metro Manila, Camarines Sur, Cebu, Davao City, Cagayan Valley, Baguio, Boracay, Zambales, Puerto Princesa, Bohol, Negros Oriental, Camiguin Island and Ilocos Norte.
On the other hand, the Philippines Top Five foreign markets, according to rank for the first four months of 2011, are South Korea (286,018), USA (229,200), Japan (129,223), China(71,113) and Australia (56,681).
The open-skies policy where foreign airlines may bring in and bring out their passengers might be of help in boosting Philippine tourism, although local airlines are asking for reciprocity for equal opportunity for both sides.
Activities such as promotion of sports tourism in places like Boracay, Siargao, Camarines Sur and other smaller places where surfing, swimming, hiking, spelunking, mountain climbing/trekking, birdwatching, whale watching, etc. should be jointly developed by the private and public sector. â–