Cold spell brings Europeans to the Philippines

By Random Jottings
Warm tourism comfort from cold Europe

BARELY had his feet touched down in Zurich where the temperatures were sub-zero than Department of Tourism (DOT) Undersecretary for Planning and Promotions Edu Jarque was calling us to impart the warm news that despite rumblings on the global economic front that was impacting on the worldwide tourism industry, the situation in the Philippines tourism wise was stable.

Much of this comparatively positive outlook has a lot to do with Jarque joining his boss, Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano, on marketing forays to Europe (including the current Swiss trip) where the duo have been spearheading a relentless drive to woo European tourists.

Good move that—since this initiative is now beginning to reap positive dividends. The increase in visitor count to the Philippines in 2008 is greatly attributed to the strong performance of the European markets led by Russia which posted a growth of 34 percent, France by 19 percent, and the United Kingdom by 10 percent. Scandinavian countries also recorded substantial increments as arrival from Finland grew by 19 percent, Norway (16 percent) and Sweden (6 percent).

In addition, the DOT’s effort to diversify and offer new tourist products like adventure, diving and bird watching provided an impetus to stimulate an increased awareness of the country’s tourist potentials, and also substantially increase turnout of high-value visitors with greater propensity to stay longer and spend more.

Any Filipino happening to be near any of the tourist landmarks, like the Rizal Monument in Luneta Park, and led to believe that most of suburban Shenzhen had descended on Manila, will be interested to know that Chinese tourists expanded last year to 163,689 as the DOT worked with Chinese travel agents and airlines to mount new charter flights to the Philippines from Shanghai, Nanning, Guangzhou and Kunming.

According to Jarque the recovery of the Taiwanese market was another significant highlight as it hit 118,782 arrivals, reflecting 5.86 percent growth. Mandarin Airlines chartered flights between Taipei-Kalibo and Cebu as well as Kaoshiung-Cebu yielded high tourist turnout from Taiwan.

Further down the globe, Australia surpassed its previous year record with 121,514 arrivals, posting an 8 percent increase. It also overtook Taiwan and Hong Kong, ranking in the 5th place. Canada, another strong market, continued to show significant improvement with 102,381 tourists.

The Middle East market led by the United Arab Emirate and Saudi Arabia posted 29 percent and 7-percent hike, respectively, in tourist arrivals as Middle Eastern airlines enjoyed an average of 90-percent load factor between Manila to Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well as Cebu to Doha.

But Korea and the USA remained supreme as the top source markets with a share of 19 percent and 18 percent, respectively, accounting for 38 percent of the total tourist inflow.

The ocean waves also helped boost tourism as cruise arrivals surged by 22 percent with Manila and Cebu being the major ports of call. Aside from the Italian line MV Costa Allegra that was a regular caller, five other cruise ships also docked in bringing an aggregate of 4,226 passengers.

Last year also saw the contraction in total outbound travel of key source markets. Korea’s total outbound declined by 4.9 percent, Japan’s total outbound travel slipped by 7.4 percent and the USA by 0.4 percent.

This trend underpinned the United Nations World Tourism Organization report that tourism growth in the Asia and the Pacific region was declining rapidly by mid-2008. Arrivals to Singapore dropped by 1.5 percent in spite of several high profile events in the city state. And foreign tourists to Hong Kong (with the exception of arrivals from China) also declined by 4.5 percent.

But, as Jarque was delighted to note on behalf of his hard working boss, despite these regional market developments, international visitor arrivals to the Philippines grew by 1.5 percent in 2008, reaching 3,139, 442.

That’s definitely cause for (albeit mooted) cheering at the DOT redoubt in Luneta. But as Durano and Jarque will be the first to admit, maintaining those figures—and then building on them—is the key mission for 2009. And it would seem the DOT is already on to that! MANILATIMES

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