Tourism players agree to discover and grow PH tourism's potential

Hoteliers and other tourism industry stakeholders gathered at the Asia CEO Tourism Forum to discuss the current state of tourism in the country, as well as various topics that include global tourism trends and competitiveness, innovative tourism activities and best practices that are geared toward achieving sustainable tourism.

Event speakers include Tajara Leisure and Hospitality Group’s President Cyndy Tan Jarabata, Presidential Communication Operations Office (PCOO)’s Assistant Secretary Ana Marie Banaag, and the keynote speaker of the event, Tommy Osmeña who is the mayor of Cebu City.

Asec. Banaag noted of the thrusts of her department to implement sustainable tourism as envisioned by the National Tourism Development Plan 2016-2022. In her speech, Banaag focused more on "infusing Filipino culture in tourism," saying this will not only offer unique experiences to the international visitors, but will also provide employment to the locals.

"We're crafting the cultural awareness campaign that we infuse in tourism the culture of Filipinos, cultural sensitivity and appreciation on how the locals live, what are their tradition-- all unadulterated," she said. "We want the business sector to look into it and consider if they can invest in that aspect.”  

"That's what we want to present before them because they are the developers, they are the ones who have the financial capacity to invest, so if there's what they should look into, they might appreciate promoting this and at the same time help develop the grass roots."

To help sustain arrival growth, the Tourism Department has launched the “It’s More Fun in the Philippine Farms” – an effort to put farm tourism at center-stage, and revived the “Bring Home a Friend” program as part of a strategy to attract 12 million tourist arrivals by 2022.

Jarabata, on the other hand, tackled markets for tourism. She said the Philippines should bank on the growth of emerging markets as well as China’s dominance in foreign tourist arrivals to achieve the Philippines’ 2018 target of 7.4 million tourists. Chinese visitor arrivals in the Philippines grew by 43.3 percent to 968,447 in 2017, making them the second top source of tourists for that year. This was attributed to the warming of relations between Beijing and Manila after President Duterte made his first visit to China in October 2016. Beijing has promised to send 1 million tourists to the Philippines every year.

Jarabata also said the Philippine tourism sector is heavily affected by the increasing purchasing power of the middle class. At the same time, younger tourists, who are more tech savvy and have growing spending capacities, would also be a market that the hospitality industry could take advantage of.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), domestic tourism expenditure, which includes expenditure of resident visitors within the country either as domestic trip or part of an international trip, grew by 25.5 percent, from P2.11 trillion in 2016 to P2.64 trillion in 2017. Domestic tourism expenditure represents 22.8 percent of the household final consumption expenditure in 2017.

Jarabata stressed that tourism has changed from being a service industry offering customers a flight, a room and some food to offering them experiences. By “experience” she means access to other people’s cultures, ways of life, food and environments. Jarabata mentioned that a tourism trend is for operators to allow their clients to ‘belong’ and experience a place “like a local.” She also said it is important that locals are encouraged to take part in tourism efforts.

Mayor Osmeña for his part said Cebu has been capitalizing on the influx of tourists in the province by working on upgrading their road networks and training personnel to keep up with international standards.

He shared that Cebu LGU regularly conducts trainings and seminars to the different tourism headquarters in the province to protect tourist destinations as Bantayan Island and Oslob town. He added that the province is not only concerned with the tourist arrivals but also the waste management in areas frequently travelled. He said the province has built-in programs for climate change adaptation, marine protected area management and community-based tourism to protect Cebu from the fate that Boracay had.

Osmeña is also confident that the new passenger terminal (T2) at Mactan-Cebu International Airport (MICA) will further boost Cebu’s international arrivals at the same time open windows of opportunities for trade and tourism-related businesses.

He said attaining the 12 million inbound visitors and 89.2 million domestic travelers in 2022 will now be within closer reach with the opening of T2 on top of other initiatives like the upgrade of gateways, development of more destinations, and sustaining international tourism standards.

MCIA, which currently has 26 partner airlines is eyeing 11.2 million passenger traffic this year, a projected 12-percent increase from last year’s record. In 2017, 10 million foreign and local passengers passed through MCIA, which connects Cebu to 25 international destinations and 30 domestic destinations.

According to the Department of Tourism, 51.2 percent of all foreign arrivals in the Philippines came via Cebu at the latest. This is 10.2 percent over the 41 percent of non-Filipino travelers going in and out of MCIA since GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corp. (GMCAC) started handling the terminal operations and maintenance on November 1, 2014.