Increased initiatives in tourism credited for steady growth in tourist arrivals

By Azer N. Parrocha

MANILA, July 27 (PNA) — The Philippines’ revived international tourism campaign “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” among other initiatives by the Department of Tourism (DOT) has posed nothing but fruitful results, especially in keeping the steady growth of tourist arrivals afloat.

It was a rough start for the country’s tourism sector, which in the beginning of 2014 was still recovering from damages caused by super typhoon “Yolanda” in November last year to many of its tourist destinations, especially in the Visayas Region.

Such tragedy drove the DOT to launch the Bangon Tours project before the end of 2013, a continuous approach to raise revenues to help rebuild efforts in Yolanda-hit areas, while the More Fun campaign went low-profile.

However, with the outpour of foreign aid, the agency introduced “The Philippines says Thank You campaign,” on February 8 this year where simultaneous thank you messages emerged in social media sites from all over the world.

According to the DOT, the #PHthankyou campaign message was also displayed through print ads and billboards in iconic places across the world like the Times Square in New York and the Piccadilly Circus in London to name a few.

February this year also marked the beginning of the DOT’s move to slowly work its way to revive the “More Fun” campaign with the calamity-hit tourist spots starting to get back in shape.

Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr., in an earlier interview, said that the approach to the campaign will be more site specific since a sustainable tourism campaign involved making the world aware that the Philippines has many parts — many names.

One at a time, the DOT has been releasing a series of 30-second destination-specific advertisements for Boracay, Davao, Manila and Cebu as part of the new phase of the More Fun campaign.

So far, there are four DOT destination-specific television commercials (TVCs) being aired over international TV channels such as CNN, Asian Food Channel, BBC, Fox Sports, EuroNews, and EuroSports in various countries.

Print ad versions have appeared in German publications, the UK Sunday Times Travel, Action Dive publication for Southeast Asian distribution, and also displayed as ads in select Korea subway stations.

In February 14’s Travel Tour Expo, President Benigno S. Aquino III himself even challenged the agency to beat its tourist arrival goals and permanently mold the Philippines into one of the world’s vacation hotspots.

He explained that the administration has worked to ensure that visitors find travels smooth and worry-free by creating more opportunities for both local and foreign airlines to expand operations in and out of the Philippines.

On April 10, the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced its decision to return the Philippines aviation safety status to Category 1 after being downgraded to Category 2 in 2008.

It can be recalled that the downgrade was given after the FAA had found “significant concerns” over Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP)’s ability to meet international safety standards.

This development was welcomed by the DOT noting that this feat will allow Philippine carriers to operate in other cities of the United States and increase frequencies in existing routes.

Meanwhile, there is also a growing interest of international cruise lines in the Philippines as a port of call, which could eventually fuel more public-private investments in preparing the country’s tourism gateways.

Jimenez said that over 20,000 tourists are expected to be drawn by the country this year owing to plans from international cruise lines of increasing their ports of call and expanding visits.

He said that the agency is expecting some 18 cruise ships this year. In the last two years since 2011, cruise arrivals in the Philippines grew by 48 percent.

The DOT is also looking at opportunities to draw in more foreign tourists via MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions) tourism to attain a 22 percent growth in foreign tourist arrivals by 2016.

Last May, the Philippines hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF) on East Asia, which Jimenez said was a result of economic improvements in the Philippines.

“The reason why conferences are increasing in the Philippines is that the Philippine business community is now more confident to invite their regional and global organizations to meet in the Philippines,” Jimenez said in an interview.

“You’re seeing a lot more regional and global conference for private corporations which is actually the core of MICE,” he said.

He said that growth in MICE tourism is increasing as it also helped that the Philippines had the geographical reality of cutting travel time for Asian countries in half.

At present, the DOT is boosting efforts to increase the competitiveness of the country’s tourism industry by employing a group of international accommodation assessors to check starting this month if Philippine hotels and resorts adhere to globally-accepted quality standards and practices.

According to the DOT, its new quality assurance and accreditation standards system — which was launched last year — will be applied and tested in 155 hotels and resorts located in main tourist destinations.

The DOT said that these include Cebu, Bohol, Davao, and Palawan. If successful in the pilot areas, DOT will consider an expansion nationwide.

Jimenez expressed hope that the agency’s new quality standards would benefit the tourism industry significantly since it is designed to assist the government’s tourism roadmap of reaching the 10 million tourist arrivals by 2016.

According to data from the DOT, the first five months of 2014 saw the arrivals of 2,061,135 international visitors to the Philippines, growing at 2.47 percent compared to the same months in 2013 with 2,011,520 arrivals.

The month of May 2014 acquired 364,598 visitors, which grew slightly by 0.70 percent relative to the 362,062 visitors the previous year.

South Koreans remain to be the top contributor of international visitors with 453,227 arrivals (21.99 percent) to the total inbound traffic, followed by the United States with 327,702 visitors (15.90 pct) and China with a total 198,951 (9.65 pct).

Rounding up the top ten visitor markets are Japan, Australia, Singapore, Canada, United Kingdom, Taiwan and Malaysia.

Still, in order for tourism in the Philippines to work, Jimenez said that not only the national government, but also the local governments should exert their best efforts to improve it.

“Tourism is only as strong as the local governments working behind it,” he said, noting local counterparts in developing the tourism destinations, diversifying tourism packages, and sustaining demand.

He explained that the DOT can never go wrong with ecotourism, which has always been one of our strongest competitive advantages relative to other destinations in Asia.

At present, the DOT is pushing for the development of new tourist destinations, geographic markets, segments, niches, and routes pursuant to the country’s National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP). (PNA)