THE OUTLOOK for tourist arrivals in 2019 is more positive now that the industry has put the Boracay closure behind it and as airlines add connections to the Philippines, industry officials said.
“2019 looks brighter… now that we’ve opened Boracay, and [airlines] adding frequencies in the Philippines, that’s really an avenue for growth as far as tourism arrivals are concerned,” Jose Ma. Renard Gregory B. Tuaño, president of the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) told reporters in a briefing on the Travel Trade Expo yesterday.
The expo which will be held from Feb. 8-10 at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City, will have 372 exhibitors from airlines, cruise lines and travel operators and agencies. The association is expecting to exceed its 2018 foot traffic level of 135,000.
Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL), announced on Jan. 8 that it will be flying to Phnom Penh, Hanoi and New Delhi early this year.
In December, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat announced that 2018 international tourism arrivals totaled 7.2 million, short of the 7.4 million target.
One the country’s top beach destinations, Boracay Island, was ordered closed for six months to allow for a cleanup and a review of environmental compliance among the establishments there.
The closure ended on Oct. 26. In 2017, Boracay attracted 2.2 million visitors.
Discovery Shores Boracay manager Erwin Lopez said losses incurred during the closure could take about a year to recoup.
“I’m really not seeing a strong comeback, I think it will take about — the quickest — 12 months for us to be able to [recover] because the wholesalers and people who travel from China and South Korea, their first quarter is already planned out so it will take a while. Hopefully the local market will take up the slack,” Mr. Lopez told reporters in December.
Mr. Tuaño said the recovery period could be shorter, driven in part by pent-up demand from domestic travelers.
“There’s more opportunity for them to actually recover. I’m positive that their forecast of them recovering within a year will be met or even shortened now that Boracay is once again talk of the town,” he said before adding that the island will benefit from the strong local tourism market.
Mr. Tuaño said one of the biggest hurdles of the industry are visa requirements for certain nationalities.
“Visas are always the first hurdle for foreigners to come to the Philippines. We are not yet fully enjoying the potential because they are required visas,” Ryan Uy, vice-president for sales at PAL said at the PTAA briefing.
Mr. Tuaño said the PTAA asked the Department of Foreign Affairs to consider waiving visa requirements for countries like China and India.
“We have to look at, as a matter of priority, where the numbers are — China was specifically mentioned because of the volume of potential tourists,” he said.
Thailand granted visa-on-arrival fee exemptions to Chinese nationals in Nov. 15 and Xinhua reported in January that Thailand saw a 173% increase for foreign tourists asking for visa-on-arrival in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport 45 days after implementation and as much as 246% in Chiang Mai airport.
“I wouldn’t say a good response, but we’re still working on it… it’s easier said than done… it takes a lot of dialog between two countries,” Mr. Tuaño said of the government’s response to the industry’s position.
“We’re always optimistic. We don’t know when it will happen. We hope it’s soon but we will continue to lobby and push for it,” he added. — Zsarlene B. Chua