YEARENDER: PHL tourism growth continues steady pace in 2016

The Philippine tourism industry this year has been smooth sailing thanks to a wider distribution of tourism activities aligned with the 10-point agenda under the Duterte administration.

Department of Tourism (DOT) Undersecretary for Development Planning Benito Bengzon Jr. told reporters that the country is on track of hitting its target of 6 million foreign tourist arrivals and USD6 billion tourism receipts by yearend.

Recent data from the DOT showed the country acquired a total of 4.46 million foreign tourist arrivals in the first nine months to September, which is 12.08 percent higher than the 3.98 million arrivals in the same period last year.

Top five source markets are still Korea, which brought in 1.09 million visitors, followed by the US with 636,015 visitors, China with 537,582 visitors, Japan with 410,669 visitors, and Australia with 178,600 visitors.

Total earnings gained from tourism activities from the first nine months to September 2016 reached PHP178.48 billion or USD3.8 million, which is 5.76 percent higher versus the PHP168.75 billion in the same period last year.

More fun activities

Bengzon said the agency consulted with municipal governments and property owners to develop an Integrated Tourism Master Plan (ITMP) to study the variety of tourism products in particular areas in the country.

Among the products found to have spurred tourism this year include cruise and dive tourism which both cater to high-end source markets, aside from the usual sand-and-beach and eco-tourism.

The cruise tourism industry saw more investors expressing greater interest in developing a new international cruise terminal in Manila by two options -- a private or joint venture with government participation.

DOT also rolled out a National Cruise Tourism Development Strategy, which identifies the Turquoise Triangle that links Manila, Boracay and Puerto Princesa and other cruise destinations, to attract the interest of cruise lines.

Bengzon said that tourist arrivals in the country via cruise ships could grow as much as 15 to 20 percent with the new Manila terminal. Currently, 99 percent of tourist arrivals enter the country by plane and the remaining one percent enter via cruise ships.

The tourism official, however, noted that before the country makes a "quantum leap" in terms of number of cruise passengers, port facilities will have to be in place.

He pointed out that cruise tourism remains one of the priorities under the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) 2016-2022.

Meanwhile, the Philippines is also slowly being positioned as a top underwater (UW) photography destination in Asia given its rich marine diversity.

Batangas last month hosted the 4th Anilao Underwater (UW) Photo Competition, dubbed as "The World Cup of Photo Competitions" as it brings together professional and amateur -- local and international -- participants.

More or less 200 participants, which include UW photographers and fun divers, from Asia, North America, and Europe attended the event.

This event comes after the Philippine participation in the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA) Show 2016 held in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is an annual trade-only event for scuba diving businesses attended by dive operators, dive shops, scuba divers.

In the same event, the Philippine booth engaged new scuba divers and underwater photographers in the United States to visit and dive in the Philippines.

Emerging markets

Aside from the top 10 source markets, DOT has also started penetrating emerging markets -- Turkey, Israel, and Russia to name a few -- through the staging of more international road shows.

Bengzon said the Philippines participated in the East Mediterranean International Tourism and Travel (EMITT) Fair 2016 held in Istanbul, Turkey in January.

The EMITT is recognized as one of the top five tourism exhibitions in the world as it involves the participation of representatives from around 70 countries.

Even before the Philippine participated in EMITT, Bengzon said that the agency was already "planting the seeds" through organizing familiarization tours to promote awareness of the country as a choice destination.

He said that more than just the headcount of tourist arrivals, it was important to consider tourism receipts to have an optimum mix of markets that deliver overall production to tourism figures.

Stronger MICE

MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) tourism has also sustained momentum this year with the country hosting the big-ticket events such as the Asean Tourism Forum, Routes Asia, Madrid Fusion, among others

DOT, together with the Department of Trade and Investment (DTI) and Philippine Association of Convention and Exhibition Organizers and Suppliers Inc. (PACEOS) also crafted a MICE roadmap which will help identify issues and challenges in MICE industry in the country.

The roadmap is also expected to formulate short, medium and long term strategies for MICE, and eventually come up with recommendations on how to strengthen linkages among stakeholders.

In a separate interview, Undersecretary for Administration Rolando "Alan" CaAizal told reporters that the country will be needing more MICE centers particularly in cities outside Metro Manila such as Cebu and Davao City.

The Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), marketing arm of the DOT, previously said that MICE tourism contributes a share of around 15 percent of the tourism industry.

Slogan stays

After initially announcing a change in its popular "It's More Fun in the Philippines" slogan, the DOT last month opted to stick to the old slogan and upscale it instead of scrapping it entirely.

The department has commissioned advertising firm McCann Worldgroup Philippines, which bagged the PHP650-million project, to improve the slogan.

This project will include audio-visual presentations, TV and radio commercials, print advertisements, and the DOT's upgraded website which will be placed in countries classified as emerging markets.

The PHP650-million funding will be sourced from the PHP1 billion previously earmarked by the previous administration for the 'It's More Fun' campaign.

Launched in 2012, 'It's More Fun' was a brainchild of DOT and local advertising firm BBDO Guerrero. The slogan has won numerous awards including third smartest marketing campaign under global annual ranker Warc 100.

Miss U hosting

In July, DOT confirmed that the Philippines will be hosting the next Miss Universe pageant on Jan. 30, 2017 at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena in Pasay City.

Pres. Rodrigo Duterte was initially against the idea, however, agreed after the private sector committed to shoulder production costs of the pageant estimated at USD11 to 15 million.

DOT Undersecretary for Media Affairs Kat De Castro said the Philippines was the top choice of the Miss Universe Organization (MUO) because of two factors -- efforts of reigning Miss Universe-Philippines Pia Wurtzbach and the large Filipino fan base.

American host Steve Harvey will be hosting the pageant with backstage host, model Ashley Graham. MUO is also reported to holding auditions for a Filipino co-host.

The Philippines has already hosted the Miss Universe pageant twice, in 1974 and 1994.

Source: Philippines News Agency