By Melissa Luz T. Lopez
SINGAPORE — Asian cities — led by Bangkok — remain the destinations of choice of global tourists this year, with the Philippines yet to catch up with regional leaders in terms of providing convenient and more cost-efficient travel options.
Thailand’s capital city remained the top travel destination among foreign tourists last year, keeping the lead with some 19.41 million international visitors spending at least a whole day of travel there, according to the Mastercard Global Destination Cities Index 2017 announced on Tuesday.
London placed second with 19.06 million visitors booked in 2016, followed by Paris with 15.45 million foreign tourists.
In the report, Mastercard pointed out that the Asia Pacific region remains the preferred travel site among foreigners, with nine of the top 20 destinations located in the region. Singapore ranked fifth to overtake New York, while Seoul also jumped three slots to seventh place from a year ago.
Other Asian cities which are preferred travel destinations are Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia; Tokyo and Osaka in Japan; Hong Kong; Taipei; and Shanghai, China.
Mastercard ranked 132 cities worldwide using public data covering their total international overnight visitor arrivals, including the amounts which these tourists spent while on travel.
Eric F. Schneider, senior vice-president for Asia Pacific at Mastercard Advisors, said he expects these Asian cities to maintain Asia Pacific’s footing as the region of choice, adding that he does “not expect any major changes” in the rankings in 2017.
According to the study, foreigners saw ease of travel as among the biggest considerations in flying to these Asian locations — mostly for leisure, except for the case of Shanghai which saw nearly half of its visitors flying in for business trips.
“I think it comes down to Bangkok being a very connected city,” Mr. Schneider said in a media briefing held at the Mastercard Asia Pacific Office in Singapore.
“There are cases where we see that growth can come from increased investments in infrastructure such as airports and flight connectivity. The more connected a city is, the easier it is for more people to get to that city.”
The same can be said for Singapore and Tokyo, with the financial executive pointing out substantial investments in the construction of airports and efficient mass transit systems geared towards improving the ease of travel to and within these cities.
Mr. Schneider said there remains room for other Asian cities like Manila to rise through the ranks given robust economic growth momentum, but noted that structural deficiencies must first be addressed.
“The Philippines, I anticipate, is going to be more of an inbound destination for years to come relative to an outbound source country for tourists. The surprising thing is we don’t see the Philippines yet in the top destination cities,” Mr. Schneider said.
“I’m glad to hear… that there’s more work being done on investments in infrastructure. I absolutely highlight the opportunities to look at visa restrictions and how those can be relaxed particularly for major feeder countries like China and India, and look at connectivity as well.”
The Duterte administration has committed to spend over P8 trillion in public infrastructure from 2016 to 2022 as part of its ambitious “Build, Build, Build” mantra, which aims to improve ease of doing business and overall connectivity in the archipelago.
Mr. Schneider said it would likely “take a little longer” for the Philippines to become as sizeable as source of tourists as China, which is the biggest tourism market with its population of 1.3 billion. Instead, he noted that the country should instead focus on attracting more visitors with tourism serving as an “engine” for increased economic output.
In particular, Mr. Schneider said economies with relatively weaker currencies become more attractive to foreign tourists over the short term, as they expect to get more out of the money they make back home.
Tourism receipts received by cities play a substantial role in terms of gross domestic product (GDP). Mastercard reports that the $28.5 billion which tourists spent in Dubai last year accounted for 26.3% of total GDP, the highest share recorded among the top cities.
Some 5.9 million foreign tourists visited the Philippines in 2016 and spent P230.13 billion locally, but narrowly missed the 6-million target set by the Department of Tourism. This year, the agency expects 6.5 million travelers to come to the Philippine islands.
Some 2.88 million foreigners went to the Philippines as of end-May, higher than the 2.52 million who came during the same period last year — this is already roughly 44% of the full-year goal.