By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
Travel operators yesterday strongly pushed for the waiver of visa for Chinese and Indian tourists as they forecast a 20 percent rebound in tourist arrivals this year after the industry failed to hit its 2018 growth target.
Ritchie B. Tuano, president of the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA), cited at the opening of the 3-day Travel Tour Expo several factors contributing to this brighter foreign tourist arrivals outlook this year.
“We did not meet last year’s target, but 2019 is a lot brighter than 2018. We are optimistic we will do better in terms of foreign tourist arrivals,” said Tuano at a press conference for the 26th Travel Tour Expo at SMX Convention Center.
The Department of Tourism is targeting 8.2 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2019. Last year’s arrivals figure was estimated at 7 to 7.2 million, missing the 7.5 million target largely due to the temporary closure and rehabilitation of Boracay, the country’s premier tourist destination.
With refreshed and rejuvenated Boracay, Tuano said foreign tourists can grow 20 percent this year.
The foremost growth driver is the fact that airlines have increased their frequencies to the Boracay.
This should also help in shortening the recovery period for Boracay establishments affected by the island’s temporary closure last year to at least 6 months instead of one year, he said.
In addition, there have been opening of new international airports like the Panglao (Bohol) International Airport in the provinces that offer direct international flights.
Travel agencies are banking on the inflow of tourists from mostly from Asian countries like China, Korea and Japan.
Travel agencies though have pressed for the waiver of visa for Chinese tourists to encourage them to visit the Philippines.
Ryan Uy, PTAA vice-president, noted there were only 1 million Chinese tourists last year instead of the Chinese Ambassador’s commitment to bring in 2 million.
Uy blamed this lower Chinese tourist arrivals to the visa issue.
Had it not for the visa hurdle, “we could easily double, triple the Chinese tourist arrivals.”
When Thailand waived the visa requirement for Chinese, they received an influx of 8 million Chinese tourists.
Chinese tourists are granted visa upon arrival, but Uy said they still have to queue up at the immigration.
Likewise, travel agents are also urging for the same waiver for Indian tourists just like Japanese and Koreans.
Tuano, however, said that regardless of the visa hurdle, Chinese tourists are still coming to the country.
“We are looking at visa waiver for China and India because of their potential to generate huge tourism volume,” he stressed.
This will, however, take time as the government would also want reciprocity in visa requirement.
But Uy said that the government could grant a six-month free visa initially. PTAA has already submitted their request to the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Tourism.
On local tourism, Tuano said they have never seen a more empowered local tourists.
“Local tourists have never been this bullish, they planned ahead, they looked at long weekends and promo fares,” he said.
Meantime, PTAA Chairperson Marlene Dado Jante said they are looking again to break foot traffic record this year with more than 135,000 Filipinos expected to troop to the three day event.
TTE has already gotten the reputation as the one-stop shop for everyone’s travel needs.
“Over the years, the TTE has become synonymous with great travel deals and we aim to keep that as we open the expo in February. Everything that our countrymen needs for their travels in 2019 will be at the expo,” Jante said.
She added: “We have always set the bar high for the expo. Every year, we try to come out with new innovations and push all exhibitors to come out with packages that are only exclusively available at the expo.”
More than 400 exhibitors will be participating during the expo in February including the biggest airlines, hotels, resorts, theme parks, cruise lines worldwide. It will all feature all the tourism stakeholders in the country, embassies, and national tourism organizations.
The expo will again cover the entire 16,230 square meters of floor space and will be open for a combined 32 hours during its three-day run.
“Travel is no longer a luxury among our countrymen. Filipinos now travel at least once a year. The expo will be the only time during the year that drop down travel services and packages to most destinations in the country and abroad will be available,” Jante said.
She said that with a potential record high number of foot traffic, the organizing committee will look at the possibility of still extending the TTE operating hours to for the expo to accommodate everyone.
Over the last three years, the TTE has seen at least a 10 percent increase in its foot traffic.
The 26th edition of the TTE is being supported by the Tourism Promotions Board, Philippine Airlines, Mabuhay Miles, and Citibank.