By Joyce Pangco Pañares
Tourism Secretary Ace Durano said that although Russia has also suffered from the global economic meltdown, its nationals are among the Philippines' top five visitors.
Mrs. Arroyo became the first Filipino president that Russian travel industry officials met. “The President wants to hear their thoughts on how to strengthen arrivals from this market,” Durano said in an interview at the Ritz Carlton Hotel.
“These are tour operators who specialize in outbound flights to Asia so this will be a confidence-building measure,” he added.
Mrs. Arroyo, who is in Russia for the first time since she became President, arrived in Moscow Tuesday night after attending the commemorative summit between Korea and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Jeju Island.
Durano said in 2005, Russian tourist arrivals were not even in the statistics of Tourism Department because “the Philippines was not in the map of Russian tour operators.”
“But since 2006 up to our forecast for the end of the year, we expect to see that annual growth of Russian tourist arrivals will be at about 40 percent. This is one of the fastest growing markets for us,” he said.
In 2008, Russian tourist arrivals peaked at 15,000 and it is expected to reach 21,000 this year.
The Tourism chief described Russian tourists as those “who stay the longest, for about two to three weeks, who go to the Philippines in families in groups of four to five.”
“They are tourists who eat and drink the most. They are the best clients any resort or hotel can have,” Durano said.
From Moscow, Mrs. Arroyo will proceed to a forum on the global economic crisis at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday.
“She will be among the speakers of the Forum’s plenary meeting on June 15 where she will discuss the topic Global Economic Crisis: First Lesson in Moving Forward. She will also have a bilateral meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev,” deputy presidential spokesman Lorelei Fajardo said.
This developed as Durano said that under an air accord, Russian national carrier Aeroflot is the only designated airline that enjoys air freedom rights.
“Two months ago, we updated our air services agreement to include multi-airline designation so that it will not be limited to Aeroflot only and multi-point destination so Russian airlines can fly to various points in the country,” Durano said.
“Aeroflot, however, is not that interested in expanding its flights in the country. But Transaero, which is a non-designated airline, is the one that is very aggressive in pushing for the Philippines as a tourist destination,” he added.
Transaero is the second largest Russian serving international routes and has chartered flights to Cebu and Manila.
Durano said the Arroyo administration will also seek the designation of Vladivostok Asia and S7 (formerly Siberia Airlines) as official carrier.
Transaero and Aeroflot have indicated interest to operate more flights to the Philippines but were reportedly discouraged with the lack of fifth freedom rights under the air agreement.
Fifth freedom rights was previously granted to airlines operating in the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, allowing carriers to pick up passengers in Clark and proceed to a third country before returning to their home country.