MANILA, Philippines–Philippine tourism is poised to take center stage next year.
The government has declared 2015 “Visit the Philippines Year” in a bid to attract more foreign visitors to the fast-rising favorite destination of high-value tourists.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) launched the campaign on Thursday following the 13th staging of the Philippine Travel Exchange (Phitex) at SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.
Organizers claimed that the weeklong Phitex event had drawn a record number of foreign buyers—an indication of the keen interest among foreign tourists to explore the country.
This year’s Phitex gathering was attended by over 200 buyers from 30 countries, up from around 170 buyers from more than 20 countries last year, according to its organizers.
Pope’s visit, Apec summit
Domingo Ramon C. Enerio III, chief operating officer of the DOT marketing agency Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), said the 12-month program would help the Philippines “burst into the limelight.”
Two important events—the Pope’s visit in January and the hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit in November—are expected to boost the country’s profile on the international stage, Enerio said.
The Apec summit, which will gather 21 of the regional grouping’s leaders, is expected to help the country reclaim its place among the top destinations for meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions, Enerio said.
“The visit of Pope Francis will augur well for the remainder of the new year,” Enerio added.
The government, as well as the private sector, has also lined up other events highlighting the country’s culture, history, culinary arts, music, arts and sports, said Enerio.
Culinary, war memorial
For one, the country will commemorate in September next year the 70th anniversary of the final battles of World War II that led to the liberation of Manila from Japanese occupation.
“The Philippines is willing to welcome visitors from the war’s protagonist countries not to wage war but to pay homage to the fighters’ courage and offer prayers for peace,” Enerio said.
Madrid Fusion—one of the most popular food festivals in the world—will also be held in April, with international chefs expected to attend the gastronomic event.
That will be on top of monthly food festivals offering the best in regional cuisine, Enerio said.
For music lovers
Music lovers can also look forward to live performances and shows during international concerts in Manila. Music and arts festivals will also be held in Bohol and Puerto Galera, Enerio said.
Intramuros and Rizal Park are also being redeveloped by the Cultural Center of the Philippines to serve as venues for cultural events.
Various international sporting events are also scheduled to bolster sports, adventure and ecotourism.
The sporting events will include triathlon, martial arts, marathon, yachting, beach volleyball and tennis.
Local basketball and diving events are expected to attract audiences from abroad, especially fans among overseas Filipinos, said Enerio.
Street dancing festivals, as well as electronic dance parties, would cater to the hip and young partygoers, he said.
Tourism Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez Jr. told reporters that the “Visit the Philippines Year 2015” campaign would capitalize on the success of the earlier “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” pitch.
“We want to sustain the campaign. We have an obligation to freshen it up and generate the same traction when it was new,” he said.
While the tourism chief admitted that much needed to be addressed in terms of infrastructure, including bottlenecks at airports, he said revenues and employment-generation from tourism activities were expected to pick up.
“Foreign tourists are staying longer in the Philippines and they are also coming from countries farther away,” Jimenez said.
Jimenez said higher-value tourists had jacked up sales receipts by 15 percent year on year as of the end of July.
“We’re probably having one of the biggest revenue growths in this part of the world in terms of tourism,” Jimenez said.
At present, foreign tourists spend $1,000 on average when they visit the country, Assistant Tourism Secretary Benito C. Bengzon Jr. said. These expenses include hotel accommodations and food purchases for up to 10 days of stay here, on top of tours, shopping and buying souvenir items.
“It helps that the Philippines has a unique situation—it is an archipelago, so foreign tourists try to go to as many places, hence spending more time here than they do in other destinations,” Bengzon said.
Also, the bulk of tourists come from high-income northern and eastern Asian countries, like China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, and from North American economic giants United States and Canada, Jimenez said.
The government aims to further jack up tourist spending to $1,500 per visitor in the next two years by offering more attractions and destinations, and enhancing tour, shopping and dining offerings, Bengzon said.
Total tourism revenues this year are expected to hit over $5 billion, compared to last year’s $4.5 billion, according to Bengzon.
$10B tourist revenues
By 2016, revenues are expected to reach about $10 billion, he said.
Jimenez has expressed confidence that the target arrivals of about 7 million and 10 million for this year and 2016 would be attained, even if the number of tourists declined during the first half.
“We are the next big thing in Asian travel, as we benefit from the fact that the world is turning to Asia for travel experience,” Jimenez said.