Improved ties spur Philippine tourism

The rise of Chinese travelers is making the Philippines a key tourist destination in Southeast Asia.

Despite its pristine beach resorts and colorful festivals, the Philippines has been a laggard compared with neighbors in the region. It was attracting only about 6 million tourists each year, versus the tens of millions received by Thailand and Malaysia.

But in 2018, the Philippines posted a record high 7.1 million tourist arrivals. Nearly half of them came from South Korea, China and the United States, according to the Philippine Department of Tourism.

The department said China alone accounted for roughly 17 percent of the Philippine tourism market, recording 1.25 million arrivals last year. This is nearly 30 percent higher than 2017's arrivals, making China "the most improved market" and the second-largest source market for Philippine tourism.

Manila Cathedral in Manila, capital of the Philippines. /VCG Photo

Manila Cathedral in Manila, capital of the Philippines. /VCG Photo

Tourism Undersecretary Benito Bengzon said the Philippines aims to attract more Chinese tourists, targeting 1.63 million arrivals by the end of this year. This is also in line with the department's target of 8.2 million total tourist arrivals in 2019.

According to Bengzon, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to improve diplomatic relations with China has encouraged more Chinese tourists to come in. Duterte started his fifth state visit to China on August 28. 

Read more: What to expect from Philippine President Duterte's fifth China visit?

"Healthy diplomatic relations will definitely work to secure robust economic and business ties," Bengzon said. This complemented efforts by both the government and the private sector to attract more Chinese tourists. These include attending travel fairs, easing visa restrictions on Chinese tourists, and offering more direct flights to Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

Boracay, a small island in the Philippines. /VCG Photo

Boracay, a small island in the Philippines. /VCG Photo

In 2018, flag carrier Philippine Airlines ramped up operations to China by increasing flight frequency to 103 times weekly.

Early this year, Cebu Pacific Air launched its first direct flight to the city of Shenzhen, in south China's Guangdong Province. The budget airline flies 23 times weekly between the Philippines and China.

The department's target is on track so far. According to latest official data, 733,769 Chinese tourists visited the Philippines from January to May, 31 percent higher than for the same period last year. Chinese tourist arrivals accounted for 21.03 percent of the total 3.5 million arrivals in the first five months of 2019.

(Cover image via VCG)

Source(s): China Daily