FRANCE AND the Philippines have signed an agreement to strengthen tourism ties and increase the flow of visitors both ways.

The agreement, according to a statement from the Department of Tourism (DoT), is contained in the summary record of discussion signed during the 1st Philippines-France Joint Working Group Meeting.

“Our meeting aims to discuss the plans and developments of the agreement to recommend programs, projects, and activities for the development of tourism cooperation between our two countries,” said DoT Undersecretary Benito C. Bengzon, Jr., who signed the agreement for the Philippines.

Clement Laloux, head of the Tourism Promotion Department of the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, said, “We are very happy to be here for this first joint committee on tourism. I think we both worked very actively to increase the number of tourists coming to the Philippines and coming to France.”

“I’m sure that the French expertise of the French companies that are part of the delegation will take part in this development,” Mr. Laloux also said.

Nicolas Galey, French Ambassador to the Philippines and Micronesia, said they recognize the “huge potential” of the Philippines as a destination for French travelers.

“Your beautiful and welcoming country can certainly attract many more tourists beyond the well-known destinations in Southeast Asia. As your slogan says, it’s always more fun in the Philippines,” Mr. Galey said.

In 2018, 75,000 French tourists came to the Philippines, according to Mr. Bengzon.

“Hopefully with better coordination and closer cooperation it can finally reach 100,000,” he said.

The DOT targets over 114,000 French tourist arrivals by 2020.

DoT data show France is the country’s 13th source market and is the top three for Europe following the United Kingdom and Germany.

On the other hand, 86,000,000 Filipinos visited France in 2017, mostly on pilgrimage tours.

Atout Franc Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Director Morad Tayebi, in a visit to Davao City earlier this week, said they see the potential of a bigger market for Catholic pilgrimages among Filipinos.

Mr. Tayebi, director for the government organization involved in destination marketing, said France’s current major markets in Southeast Asia are Singapore and Malaysia, followed by Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

He added, “It will…take a little longer for the Philippines to become a major market. I believe it will take between five to 10 years… But we are optimistic because the biggest increase of tourist arrivals last year was from the Philippines.”

The Embassy of France and Atout-France led a delegation of French tourism professionals for a roadshow in Davao City.

Part of the group were representatives from the tourism boards of Lourdes, Avignon, and Chartres, and hotel chain The Original Hotels, which conducted promotions and workshops with Davao-based travel agents.

“Southeast Asia is a very important market and now the biggest market is the Philippines because last year, we reached 110,000 Filipinos and we are willing to reach this year to 130,000,” Mr. Tayebi said.

The tourism sectors of both countries are lining up busines-to-business meetings, familiarization tours, travel and trade events, and other marketing activities to boost arrivals. — with a report from Maya M. Padillo