Manila dangles VRST, E-visas to tourists


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

MALACAÑANG has approved a business tycoons group’s recommendation to extend visa privileges to select foreign nationalities as well as a tax refund scheme for shoppers in a bid to attract more international travelers to the Philippines.

The Private Sector Advisory Council (PSAC) said President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has accepted its Tourism Sector’s recommendation to allow Chinese and Indian travelers to apply for e-visas upon arrival (EVUA). Also, to generate more visitor receipts, the PSAC recommended the implementation of a value-added tax (VAT) refund scheme for tourists (VRST) so foreign guests in the country are able to shop more, which was also approved by Marcos Jr.

This was confirmed by a news release from the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) over the weekend, which said these recommendations were among the “Quick Wins” solutions to boost tourist arrivals in the country, with the VRST to be implemented by 2024, while the e-visa for Chinese and Indian tourists will be rolled out in 2023.

The PCO said Marcos Jr. likewise approved the removal of the One Health Pass, requiring just one form for health, immigration, and customs to be filled up by arriving travelers, the inclusion of travel tax in all airline tickets, as well as the removal of outdated advisories and announcements via loudspeakers in the country’s airports.

E-Visa upon arrival

Said recommendations were presented to Marcos Jr. in a meeting in Malacañang on January 26, which the PSAC Tourism Sector stressed will “improve the traveler experience.” Public announcements have already been removed at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminals. (See, “MIAA chief aims for quiet, seamless travel at Naia,” in the BusinessMirror, January 9, 2023.)

The Department of Tourism (DOT) is targetting the arrival of 4.8 million foreign tourists this year, up 81 percent from the 2.65 million who arrived in 2022.

Chinese tourists were the second largest market prior to the pandemic, with some 1.7 million arriving in the Philippines in 2019. In the same year, there were 134,963 tourists from India, and because of historical ties with the Philippines and a sizeable local Indian community, said country is also considered a major tourism market.

Under present immigration procedures, Chinese tourists have to apply for a visa through a DOT-accredited tour operator before it is approved by the Bureau of Immigration within 10 days.  Indian nationals have to apply for a visa to visit the Philippines, except for those who have unexpired visas from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Canada, Schengen countries, or Singapore.

EO for shopping privilege

Meanwhile, the PSAC said the Philippines is the only Asian country without a VRST refund scheme, although it is implemented in 69 countries. While no details were made available, the scheme could be patterned after Singapore’s, where tourists who purchase goods and services more than S$100 at participating shops and merchants, may claim a refund on the 7-percent goods and services tax (GST) paid, before departure from Changi Airport. Tourists can either claim their refunds either in cash or via electronic means. The PCO said Marcos Jr. will be issuing an executive order to implement the VRST scheme.

According to the DOT’s National Tourism Development Plan of 2016-2022, most of the country’s major tourism markets share shopping and entertainment as a special interest when visiting the Philippines, except for tourists from Singapore, the United Kingdom, and Germany.

Since meeting last September 2022, Marcos Jr. has approved earlier quick-win recommendations of the PSAC Tourism Sector Group, which include the implementation of “Holiday Economics” and the replacement of Philippine Coast Guard military uniforms with inconspicuous clothing. Holiday economics, pioneered by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, moves several national holidays to the nearest Monday, to extend the weekend, and spur Filipinos to go on vacation with their families.

The PSAC said it “consulted and collaborated with stakeholders to identify three short-term goals that would have far-reaching effects: the improvement of airport infrastructure and operations, the management of the national brand and image, and the promotion of tourism investments.” Its lead convenor is Aboitiz Group President and CEO Sabin Aboitiz while Tourism Sector members include Lucio Tan Group COO Lucio Tan III, Quorum Holdings Corp. Chairman Emeritus Roberto “Bobby” Claudio Sr., Filinvest Development Corp. President and CEO Joji Gotianun Yap, Hertz Philippines CEO Rene Limcaoco, and JG Summit Holdings President and CEO Lance Y. Gokongwei, who replaces Robinsons Land Corp. President and CEO Frederick D. Go as the sector’s head.

In the January 26 meeting were Cabinet Secretaries and other officials with tourism-related efforts.