Philippine tourism: sustaining growth in a challenging environment


Industry Performance

Tourist arrivals in the top sixteen tourism destinations went up by 16.5 percent, reaching close to 4 million in the first semester of 2009.

The Department of Tourism’s (DOT) efforts to maximize opportunities in international markets and encourage greater domestic travel movement in the first six months provided the impetus to sustain tourism growth in the midst of challenges brought by the global financial crisis and Influenza A (H1N1).

This feat is attributed to the substantial increase in domestic tourism by 20 oercent in the second quarter of 2009, which enhanced the business and investment confidence in the sector during the period January to June 2009. Likewise, the changing lifestyle and travel pattern of more Filipinos and Philippine residents to spend their Holy Week, long weekends, and summer/ holiday vacation in the various tourist areas of the country boosted tourist flow. Foreign arrivals in key destinations also increased by 6 percent in the first half of the year, despite a decrease of 6 percent in inbound visitors into East Asia and the Pacific.

First and Second Quarter Tourist Volume: 2009 and 2008

Camarines Sur posted a hefty growth in both foreign and domestic arrivals by 52 percent and 260 percent, respectively, ranking it as the most-visited destination during the first semester with 902,202 tourists. The Provincial Government of Camarines Sur’s investment in a wakeboarding tourism product stimulated visitor volume while continuing to bolster demand for more accommodation, tour services, and transportation.

The influx of tourists in Camarines Sur also facilitated the expansion of infrastructure and development of tourism-related products. The success of this Local Government Unit (LGU) initiative serves as a model for other LGUs to harness their tourism potentials and optimize local resources to create more economic activity.

Cebu is the second most-visited tourist destination with 830,599 visitors, claiming a 23 percent share of total arrivals. Cebu continues to be the top destination for foreign tourists with 321,116 in the first semester. The expansion in air access from major tourist markets, including the new charter flights from Incheon, Busan, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Kaohsiung, as well as the increase in room supply, aggressive promotion, and public and private sector partnerships to diversify the tourism products greatly contributed to the hike in visitor volume to Cebu.

Visitor count in Puerto Princesa and Bohol went up by 63 percent and 16 percent, respectively, as diving, ecotourism, birdwatching, adventure, and incentive tourism products were jointly launched by the DOT, LGUs, and the private sector. Increased demand also ushered the conception of more community-based tourism products that increased the availability of product offering and livelihood for local residents.

Other most-frequently-visited destinations included Boracay (383,813); Davao City (330,247); Puerto Galera (215,755); and Ilocos Norte with 99,747 tourist arrivals.

Enhancing Tourist Products

The increased demand encouraged more entrepreneurs to create new products and experiences for visitors.

The Island Banca Cruises in Cebu has attracted visitors with its differently-organized and packaged island-hopping tour of the marine sanctuaries of Nalusuan and Gilutungan, the pristine white beach of Pandanon, and dive sites of Moalboal.

Kultura Filipino in Intramuros gave the tourists an opportunity to acquaint themselves with the Philippine cultural heritage through local dances, music, and cuisine. This product also serves as the highlight of the new city tour program for Manila.

Similarly, the Pasig River Cruise had lured back tourists to visit and appreciate the many sights and attractions of Metro Manila. More than a river cruise, the product provides cultural interaction, a culinary treat, an historical tour, and entertainment.

With increased popularity for adventure tourism, spelunking in the Sohoton Caves in Basey, Samar offered visitors with a quaint experience to commune with nature, explore the area’s wonders, and promote cultural exchanges. Likewise, cruising along the Golden River of Basey provided a glimpse of rural and community life amidst the scenery and images of clear waterways surrounded by green vegetation.

The sheer motivation of the municipal government of Danao in Bohol brought a new dimension to adventure tourism and created employment for local people. Dubbed as Ecological, Environmental, and Educational Adventure Tour (EAT) Danao, this product offers an extreme and exhilarating challenge with its 200-meter plunge, 1-km suislide, caving, river tubing, rappeling, kayaking, and root climbing.

Likewise, the opening of a theme park called Fantasyland in Zamboanga del Norte had boosted tourist arrivals in said destination. The entertainment facility includes interactive rides, shows, and activities for foreign and domestic visitors. A 360-room hotel will also be built in the park.

Gauging from the interests of many foreign and domestic visitors to participate in environmental, heritage, and livelihood projects, the Hands-On Volunteer Vacation Tour Package was launched in Oriental Mindoro, Bohol, Boracay Island, Aklan, Laguna, and Batangas.

Trekking, birdwatching, and ecotourism products in Mt. Apo were enriched with new adventure, camping, and cultural interaction activities, which have drawn more tourists during the summer months.

The 3rd Philippine International Tourism Fair (PITF) in Cebu gave the LGUs and private entrepreneurs a venue to feature these innovative and new tourism products to foreign buyers from the Middle East, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Japan, North America, and Canada. Travel agents from overseas also availed of these latest tourism experiences.

Europe’s biggest long-haul travel group, the Meier’s Weltreisen, had its Far East Live Seminar in Boracay and Manila, participated by 265 officers and member-agents who experienced these new and diverse tourism products, destinations, and facilities.

Similarly, 110 top tour wholesalers from Switzerland visited Boracay, Banaue, Bohol, Cebu, and El Nido to discover the different products in said destinations. These have intensified the awareness of available tourism products for the European market.

Pushing Dive Tourism

Based on the survey conducted by the TNS in the first semester of 2009, the volume of dive tourists in Cebu, Bohol, Palawan, Mindoro Oriental, and Batangas grew by 62.8 percent. German dive enthusiasts posted a 131.9 percent increase, while the Korean dive tourists went up by 104 percent, American (37 percent), Japanese (34 percent), and Chinese (31 percent).

Overall gross receipts from dive tourism in said destinations posted an increase of 52.8 percent to P 31 million vis-à-vis P 20.2 million in the first half of 2008. Substantial growth of 82 percent was recorded during the first quarter of 2009. Revenues generated by dive operators in Bohol surged by 195 percent while those in Cebu rose by 69 percent.

At the 17th Marine Diving Fair in Tokyo, the DOT Pavilion attracted more than 20,000 visitors and garnered awards for Best Diving Area, Most Desirable Destination, Best Dive Resort, and Favorite Dive Operators for the country and participating dive operators.

The DOT also continued to draw dive tourists in its annual participation in the Golden Dolphin Fair in Moscow, which attracted over 23,000 visitors from all the regions of Russia and overseas.

Consolidating Growth for the Second Half of 2009

As tourism facilities and products continue to expand, the DOT anticipates greater growth in tourist arrivals in key destinations towards the end of 2009. The growing interest among LGUs and the private sector to offer an innovative tourism experience for visitors will greatly enhance the quality of Philippine tourism products.

DOT foresees that increased investments in accommodation and transportation, as well as development of new facilities and destinations, will sustain the growth of the sector and position Philippine tourism for the next level of growth spurts as international markets recover from the global economic downturn.