12-M arrivals ‘achievable’ by 2028, says DOT chief

By Ma. Stella F. Arnaldo / Special to the BusinessMirror

THE Department of Tourism (DOT) is optimistic that international arrivals could reach 12 million by the time President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. ends his term in 2028.

In a chance interview, Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco confirmed to the BusinessMirror that the figure was “achievable”, coming from a 4.8-million target this year.

She presented the agency’s National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) of 2023-2028 during the Tourism Stakeholders’ National Summit on March 15, but no annual targets for domestic and foreign arrivals, inbound and domestic receipts, employment, etc. were revealed. Her office asserted those targets will be disclosed after President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. approves the NTDP, a blueprint of strategies that will transform the Philippines into a “tourism powerhouse of Asia.”

She reported 2022 to be a “fruitful year” for the Philippine tourism industry, underscoring that international arrivals reached 2.65 million last year, exceeding the DOT’s initial target of 1.7 million foreign visitors. Last year’s international arrivals generated an estimated P214 billion in inbound receipts, exceeding the target of P155.03 billion by 38 percent. Some 5.2 million tourism-related jobs have also been created in the past year, she said, “exceeding our goal of 4.9 million in 2022.”

Arrivals as of March 15

Frasco sees the momentum for inbound arrivals continuing as government maintains its policy of simplifying its arrival procedures in the country. International tourist arrivals reached 1.15 million as of March 15, this year. Foreign nationals accounted for 92 percent or 1.06 million of said arrivals, while overseas Filipinos (Philippine passport holders permanently residing abroad) accounted for the rest at 90,180, according to DOT data.

Of the total arrivals for the period, 304,601 came from South Korea; followed by 211,315 from the United States; 58,768 from Canada; 54,830 from Australia; and 49,887 from Japan. The rest of tourists came from Taiwan at 36,138; China at 33,311; the United Kingdom at 32,888; Singapore at 28,271; Malaysia at 20,434; Germany at 19,914; and France at 17,613.

Most stakeholders welcomed the DOT’s unveiling presentation of the NTDP 2023-2028, but expected more “granular” details on how the plan’s goals will be achieved, along with its targets.

Philippine Hotel Owners Association managing director Benito C. Bengzon Jr. said, “We’re, of course, very happy that DOT has put together the NTDP for 2023-2028. As one of the stakeholders in the tourism industry, it’s important for us to have an idea of the strategic direction of the DOT. The Secretary gave a very comprehensive presentation on where Philippine tourism should go. It would be interesting to find out what the specific programs now will be, because what is going to be key, is the execution.”

He added, “We’re happy that she talked about more sustainable, inclusive approach to tourism. We’re also happy that she acknowledged the areas that we have to work on when she reported on the index and how we scored.  I think moving forward, it’s also important to determine what the priorities are, what are the current roadblocks while we’re working on a more strategic approach. It would be helpful if we can identify some of the reasons why the tourists are not coming in big numbers.”

Challenges to the industry

For Dr. Ivan Henares, chair of the Heritage Conservation Society: “I was looking forward to listening to technical presentations about the Plan, and hopefully an actual copy of the Plan itself. [Wednesday’s] program was mostly cultural

One tourism stakeholder, who requested anonymity, also wondered about the lack of targets in the DOT’s presentation. “Yes, we already know where we came from, but where are we going?” he asked.

In her presentation, Frasco cited the many awards the Philippines and several of its key destinations have received recently. However, she noted some challenges to the tourism industry; for one, the Philippines ranked 75th out of 117 economies in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Travel & Tourism Development Index 2021, slipping two places from its 2019 ranking. The Philippines also ranked sixth of eight Southeast Asian nations included in the survey, behind Vietnam but ahead of Laos.

In the same report, the Philippines also ranked last in the WEF tourism development pillars of Business Environment, Safety and Security, and managing Tourism Demand Pressure and Impact.