Barring any major calamity, the Department of Tourism (DoT) is confident it will make history and surpass its target of attracting 5 million foreign tourists by yearend.
The numbers have been encouraging.
Statistics show 2,619,625 visitors came in during the first half of 2015, roughly an 8 percent increase compared to the same period last year.
Income raked in from tourist activities increased by 1.16 per cent, or P111.05 billion (over $2 billion), in the same period.
The foreigner spends some $1,062 per trip compared with the average $800 a few years ago. The foreign visitor spends an average of $107 (Php 4,948.14) a day and stays for 10 nights.
“The tourism dollar average daily expenditure and average length of stay have been growing over the past five years. If you look at the numbers, tourism generates some $4.8 billion a year from foreign visitors,” says Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) chief operating officer Domingo Ramon Enerio III.
Citing the Philippine Statistical Authority, he adds 44 million domestic travellers spent P1.4 trillion in 2014.
Combining the earnings from the international and domestic markets, the tourism industry has become the third largest dollar earner, after overseas remittances and business process outsourcing.
Nippon 4Promotion has been bullish. The tagline, “It’s More Fun in the Philippines,” captured the public imagination despite naysayers claiming it was appropriated from a mid-century poster.
When “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” was launched in 2012, there were social media criticisms it was copied from an old poster that said, “It’s More Fun in Switzerland.”
“Did we copy it? Certainly not. It was an activity launched by Switzerland a long time ago. We came out with a slogan to depict the kind of people we are. In the beginning, there was a question about the similarity of the line with the poster. The tagline came from the visitors. They enjoyed the experience with local communities. When they were interviewed, they’d say it’s more fun in the Philippines. This isn’t a manufactured slogan where you put an adjective before the name of a country. It’s what the visitors say,” Enerio says.
Hence, the travel industry is not sitting on its proverbial laurels.
Following the success of Visit the Philippines Year, the DoT launched its 2016 campaign, “Visit Philippines Again,” urging travellers to repeat their pleasant experience.
The campaign was inspired by foreigners who were touched by the Filipino hospitality.
“They appreciated life better because of their trip to the Philippines. True, there have been stories of the difficulties in the airport and the traffic. When they reached their destination, they got emotional realizing the beauty. The Filipinos provided the punctuation mark to the experience,” Enerio says.
To prepare for next year, the travel industry and tourism government agencies celebrated Tourism Month this September with major events.
Meetings, Incentive Travel, Conventions, Exhibitions and Events Conference (MICECON) held at Manila Marriott Hotel invited international organizations, top-level professionals and government officials to consider the Philippines as venue for their conferences and special events.
Visitors looked at possibilities and incentives for business opportunities, investments and retirement.
Travel experts also said there was a rise in the number of millennial Asian travellers, who have been driving the worldwide boom.
The annual marketing congress Philippine Travel Exchange (PHITEX), also at the Manila Marriott Hotel, attracted 192 buyers from 30 countries and 220 domestic sellers.
The main feature was the Travel Exchange (TRAVEX), the business-to-business event that matched international buyers with local suppliers who promoted their properties and services. Participants were given 15 minutes per session to make their pitch.
Organized by the Philippine Tour Operators Association, the Philippine Travel Mart was held at the SMX Convention Center. This was a domestic campaign whereby resorts, hotels, transportation and local government units made their offerings known. The DoT and its family of agencies also made their pitch.
“We need to encourage Filipinos to visit their country as viable option for holidays instead of travelling overseas by offering new destinations,” says Enerio.
LGUs promoted new hot spots such as Calaguas in Camarines Norte. South Cotabato, Saranggani and General Santos, known collectively as SocSarGen, also rebranded itself as SOCS for name recall.
The Dive, Resort and Travel Expo, also known as the Philippine Diving Festival, was held in the country for the first time at the SM Megatrade Hall. The international exposition attracted 80 foreign buyers, dive enthusiasts and dive associations that brought groups worldwide for diving trips. Seminars focused on dive safety, diving hot spots and other related activities. A highlight was the business-to-business transactions between dive enthusiasts and dive resorts and suppliers.
Asked why the flurry of activities and aggressive campaigns despite the appalling lack of infrastructure such as roads and efficient airports, Enerio admits, “These things wake us up to make us responsive to the need to make the visit a truly memorable experience. Still, the basic infrastructure is the people, the core of the campaign, which makes the Philippines more fun. Filipinos will do everything to make your stay comfortable.”
Enerio points out the country has witnessed significant developments and major improvements to make destinations more accessible.
Back in the 1980s, the country lacked networks that connected provinces. In the past decade, highways, expressways, toll roads, bridges and tunnels have been built connecting the north to the south.
“The current administration developed roads leading to Ilocos and to different parts of country. It pays to dedicate our budgets toward development. At the end of the day, we do this for our people.”
He cites the convergence program between the DoT and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). “We have reports approved by DPWH upon the recommendation of the DoT. We are asked to contribute our opinion of new development programs for roads and new ports of entry to the Philippines.”
Anticipating more tourist arrivals in the next couple of years, the DPWH will build more access roads to important tourist destinations and ports of entries. More international airports are either being enhanced or developed such as the Korean-designed airport in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, which is set for 2017.
Enerio also cites the engagement of the private sector in contributing to the tourism growth. Ayala Land, Inc. and SM Investments Corp. have ventured into tourism by including hotels, resorts, convention facilities and developing the infrastructure in their portfolios to support tourism.
“Small and medium enterprises have joined the tourism bandwagon. They see the potential for investment as a way for greater profitability,” he says.
In the end, even if people whine about the traffic jams and delayed flights, the Philippines is still a very attractive destination, he says.
“There is so much to be proud of, but we don’t talk about the good stuff. We always talk about what brings us down. We have to showcase what is beautiful in our country. Unless we do it, nobody else will. We are the masters of our own fate,” he says.
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