Jul 312013

MANILA, Philippines – The influx of international tourists continues to improve growing 11 percent in the first half of 2013 to 2.4 million, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. told The STAR.

The arrival figure, he said, makes up 45 percent of the projected 5.5-million arrivals for the year.

He said the sustained growth in foreign tourist arrivals signals the country’s robust efforts to improve its tourism industry.

Jimenez said while data from United Nations World Travel Organization (UNWTO) showed the Philippines lagging behind its neighboring countries in attracting foreign tourists, this may not reflect the actual picture.

“The Philippines is not part of a contiguous land mass unlike our neighbors. We are in the middle of the ocean,” he said.

“What the UNWTO data may have counted are the number of tourists visiting each country in Southeast Asia, even those crossing borders and/or making frequent visits by land. For example, citizens of Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore..crossing borders every day and being counted as tourists. We have no way of doing that here,” he pointed out.

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“What we only have are air arrivals data which the UN data does not show. About 98 percent of our visitors arrive here by plane. Even the tourists from our neighbors would have to travel by plane just to visit here. Just imagine, a Malaysian tourist could visit Thailand and Singapore by land. The same with Vietnam, where its citizens can just cross borders from Laos and Cambodia,” he said.

Jimenez admitted that being an archipelago, in a way, is “our disadvantage.”

“We have to explain this to our people. We are really making big improvement in our tourism industry. We can not compare apples with oranges. We should look at it in terms of income. Capturing over four million foreign visitors now is a big push to our tourism industry and the economy as a whole,” he said.

The tourism department has estimated that total visitor receipts could reach P1.504 trillion in 2013 from P1.308 trillion in 2012.

These figures would translate to 6.2 percent and 6.7 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for 2012 and 2013, respectively.

In the latest UNWTO data, the Philippines’ international tourism arrivals in 2012 stood at 4.3 million as against Malaysia (25 million); Thailand (22 million) and Vietnam (6.8 million).

But the country’s tourism receipts have steadily increased to $4 billion in 2012 from $3.19 billion in 2011 and $2.6 billion in 2010.

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