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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

PHL looking to send more tourism OFWs to Saudi Arabia

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THE Philippines is looking to export more workers to expand the tourism industry of Saudi Arabia.

In a news statement, the Department of Tourism (DOT) said Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco met with her Saudi counterpart, Vice Minister of Tourism, Her Highness Princess Haifa Al Saud on the sidelines of the recent 22nd World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit in Riyadh.

“The two ministers agreed on formalizing their partnership, with Saudi Arabia guiding the Philippines through Arabic-speaking tour guides, and in terms of developing the Halal and pilgrimage tourism portfolios, increasing direct flights, and creating an investor directory. On the other hand, the Philippines will provide hospitality and human capital development to [Saudi Arabia’s] tourism frontline,” said the DOT.

Saudi Arabia announced in November its commitment to pay overdue salaries of some 10,000 Filipino migrant workers, rendered jobless by the closure of several of its companies in 2015 and 2016.

Last August, Frasco also underscored the prospects of sending more Filipino tourism workers to Thailand, which is currently facing a 60-percent shortage in hotel staff.

Top tourist market in ME

During the bilateral meeting, Franco told Al Saud: “We share in your excitement all of the prospects and possibilities for tourism in Saudi Arabia especially with the investment in the industry….We pride ourselves in the Filipino brand of service excellence. Therefore, we would be very happy to partner with you as far as capability building and further education in terms of tourism capability development is concerned.”

She added: “Saudi Arabia actually ranks number one for our Middle East source market [for tourists]. We see great potential in ushering in more arrivals into the Philippines….At the same time, the development and relationship is mutual, considering that there are over 800,000 Filipinos here in Saudi Arabia. Therefore, our affection for each other is long-standing and I am very interested in furthering this relationship by formalizing an agreement specifically focused on tourism development.”

Data from the DOT showed Saudi Arabia ranked 23rd in the list of source markets for tourists for the Philippines, with arrivals reaching 9,424  from February 10 to November 25, 20222. Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, tourists from Saudi Arabia reached 43,748, accounting for 59.3 percent of the 73,203 total arrivals from the Middle East during the period. Total arrivals from the region slipped by 10.4 percent in 2019, with decreases recorded from most countries (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates), except for a 71.04-percent jump in tourists from Jordan and 49 percent from Egypt.

Direct flights

In 2019, the DOT identified the need to train more Arabic speakers in the hospitality industry, and encourage restaurants to offer halal food as keys to attracting more Middle Eastern travelers to the Philippines. The agency then  targeted to attract 108,170 tourists from the region, up 32 percent from the previous year.

The DOT has identified shopping and sightseeing as the main activities of tourists from the Middle East.

Also on the sidelines of the WTTC Global Summit, Frasco met with top travel tour organizations and destination management companies from the Middle East. She said,  “The most common topics that emerged from our discussions were the need for Philippines tourism exposure in Saudi Arabia, direct flights to other key gateways in the Philippines, and the organization of familiarization trips for the tour and travel operators,” among others.

The participants included ITL World, Dnata Travel, Arjaa Travel, Al Sarh Travel, Seera, I Trip, Saudi Wings Holidays, Arabian Travelers, Elite Holidays, Ace Travel, Saudi International Travel Co., Hesen Almusafer, Fursan Travel, Arabian Company for Travellers Services, Al Shahin Travel & Tourism, and Sayar Travel & Tourism, as well as airline executives such as those from Philippine Airlines’ office in Saudi Arabia.

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