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DOT targets 4.8-million foreign tourists, $5.8-billion visitor receipts in 2023

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By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo / Special to the BusinessMirror

THE lack of direct flights to the Philippines is one of the major challenges in attracting more foreign visitors.

“I’ve just returned from Saudi Arabia in Riyadh and attended the World Travel and Tourism Council and the outlook for the Philippines in Saudi Arabia and in that side of the world is very optimistic,” said Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco after the recent launch of the Bisita, Be My Guest Program. (See, “DOT relaunches travel incentive program for overseas Pinoys,” in the BusinessMirror, December 15, 2022.)

“I had a listening tour with stakeholders in that region, and they’re very excited to partner with the Philippines to be able to harness the Middle Eastern market for us, but admittedly, we really have to focus on accessibility, that is, the availability of flights. We’re also working hard and ensuring that we improve the tourism conditions in the Philippines through infrastructure access, connectivity, and the like,” she added.

While the Philippines has direct flight routes between its other major destinations like Cebu and Davao with Asian countries, only Manila has direct flights with key cities in the United States and the Middle East. The country has no direct flights with Europe, one of the key source markets for longer-staying, higher-spending tourists. Other Asean neighbors like Thailand and Vietnam, for instance, have direct flights to Europe, pushing their arrivals this year.

Despite the challenges in direct flight connectivity, the Philippines managed to attract some 2.5  million foreign tourist arrivals from February to December 18, and earning for the country about $2.34 billion, or some P131 billion, in visitor receipts as of October, still below pre-pandemic levels. But Frasco expressed confidence the country can attract some 4.8 million foreign tourists, and visitor receipts of $5.85 billion (P328 billion) in 2023.

In her yearend media briefing on Monday, the DOT chief clarified though next year’s arrivals “may be a moving target, in a sense, as we continue to improve the enabling mechanisms for tourism into the Philippines, we are confident that while we will lay this down as a benchmark, we will try as best we can to have an even more optimistic number of arrivals in the year to come.”

Among the projects to be launched by the agency next year are a Tourism Assistance Call Center, the “continued improvement” of the entry protocols into the Philippines, an improved Travel Philippines app by the DOT’s marketing arm, the Tourism Promotions Board, the promotion of Philippine destinations as a site for foreign film productions, among others.

To boost foreign arrivals into the country, the DOT is working with the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Bureau of Immigration and its parent unit, the Department of Justice for an e-visa system that will initially target China and India.

OIC-Undersecretary Verna C. Buensuceso said the technical working group, “[Will] identify areas where we can facilitate entry into the Philippines through facilitating our visa regulations and requirements.” Said countries have big tourism market volumes, but have a limited number of Philippine embassies and consular services, she explained.

Of the 2.5 million arrivals this year, foreign tourists accounted for 75.5 percent at 1.86 million, while overseas Filipinos were 603,755. The major tourism markets from February to December 18 were: the United States at 461,967; South Korea 387,780; Australia 122,971; Canada 112,015; the United Kingdom 93,440; Japan 91,557; Singapore 50,964; India 49,330; Malaysia 44,357; and Vietnam 37,028.

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