Is it more fun in the Philippines?

Reading Time: 12 minutes

The ‘Its more fun in the Philippines’ campaign launched in 2012 to attract more visitors was lauded as a ‘remarkable success’ by Warc 100 and took on a life of its own with citizens sharing their own versions of the catchy slogan put together by the Tourism Promotion Board Philippines (TPBP).

DOT campaign

Yet despite being ‘more fun’ and having over 7000+ Islands, the Philippines has lagged behind other ASEAN nations being the last of 6 major economies in ASEAN in tourism arrivals and receipts.

Netizens took on the campaign as their own with their sense of humour prevailing even during times of disaster
Netizens took part in the campaign with witty captions accompanying ‘More fun in the Philippines’

We talk to Tourism Secretary of the Philippines Ramon Jimenez Jr. on his departments strategy to increase tourism arrivals, receipts, develop infrastructure while preserving the Islands. The overly ambitious target of 10 million international visitors in 2015 was not met with just over 5 million heading to the archipelago, target for 2016 is now 6 million visitors. He tells us that infrastructure is a key priority, plans to bring in Muslim tourists and what to expect when the new President takes office in the Philippines.

What source markets grew the most over 2015? What markets are you targeting for 2016?

Click to enlarge - Source (DOTP)
Click to enlarge – Source (DOTP)

Korea, USA, Japan, China, and Australia continued to be our top five markets delivering bulk of our arrivals in 2015. Completing the country’s top producers are Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Canada, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, and Germany.

China has bounced back in 2015, showing the highest growth rate among the country’s source markets at 24.28 percent. This is followed by Taiwan, with an increase of 24.27 percent; the United Kingdom, which showed a 15.65 percent growth; Korea, which posted a 13.97 increase; and Malaysia, garnering a 11.90 percent growth.

Other high growth markets are Spain (+24.76%), New Zealand (+16.24%), France (+16.84%), Saudi Arabia (+17.02%), and the Netherlands (+13.46%), and Hong Kong (+7.08).

The DOT has focused efforts on India, Russia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Middle East, as these markets exhibit high growth and increased spending internationally. Moreover, these are the markets that have shown positive responses towards the Department’s promotional and tactical efforts.

2015 was labeled as ‘Visit the Philippines Year 2015’. What was the thinking behind the ‘Visit the Philippines Again 2016’? What do you say to the criticism that this lacks creativity and alienates first time visitors?

Click to enlarge - Source (DOTP)
Click to enlarge – Source (DOTP)

Inspired by the success of the Visit the Philippines Year (VPY) 2015 campaign, the Department of Tourism (DOT), together with its attached agencies, launching the Visit the Philippines Again (VPA) 2016. As the Philippines is a multi-experience destination, every trip to the country is bound to be memorable and unique. Therefore, because there are always new reasons to enjoy the country, VPA 2016 is an invitation to visitors to rediscover and fall in love with the Philippines all over again.

With repeat visitors comprising an estimated 60 percent of the country’s arrivals in 2014, VPA aims to build on the previous campaign in gaining higher visitor influx and repeat visitors. However, unlike VPY 2015, which was heavily focused on events, VPA 2016 is envisioned to be the most massive retail-focused effort that the Philippines have ever made. In partnership with the private sector, VPA 2016 includes special packages and promos to incentivize visitors who are returning for a second, third, or even fourth time in the country. VPA changes the way the game is played in South East Asia, as it is meant to capitalize on the country’s strengths through an unexpected strategy. Moreover, with VPA enticing repeat visitors, it comes with stirring the curiosity among those who have not been in the country yet to find out why people visit a country more than once.

One of the most popular destinations in the Philippines, the Island of Palawan
One of the most popular destinations in the Philippines, the Island of Palawan. Photo: Imran Saddique

Other than the ‘eating will never be the same again’ campaign for the Madrid Fusion Manila 2016 food festival, what other campaigns are in the pipeline for promotion?

Coming from the first year of hosting Madrid Fusion Manila in 2015, the tagline “eating will never be the same again” signifies an increased appreciation and understanding on the evolution of dishes and tastes in the country for Madrid Fusion Manila 2016. Being the world’s most accomplished modern gastronomy conference, Madrid Fusion became the entry point that positioned the Philippines, specifically, Manila as the center of gastronomy in Asia.

Similarly, the World Street Food Congress is also going to be held this April and it is the first time that this gathering will be held outside of Singapore. The country is also set to welcome the Ironman 70.3 Asia Pacific Championship in August, establishing the country as a venue for world-class sporting events. Earlier this year, we also mounted the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) 2016, as well as Routes Asia 2016.

The vibrant salcedo market in Makati offers a taste of the Filipino food trip culture. Photo: Imran Saddique
The vibrant salcedo market in Makati offers a taste of the Filipino food trip culture. Photo: Imran Saddique

Hosting events such as these allow us to expand the offerings of the Philippines by showing the multiple dimensions of the country. In turn, through these initiatives, we are gradually completing the image of the Philippines to the rest of the world, giving them concrete and convincing reasons to experience the country.

Sinulog Festival of Cebu. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Department of Tourism. Photographed by Hannah Reyes
Sinulog Festival of Cebu. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Department of Tourism. Photographed by Hannah Reyes

It seems that despite the ASEAN Economic Community, or AEC, being formally declared, the transition by member nations will be a slow and carefully thought-out process. What changes do you expect in 2016 within the tourism industry as a result of the AEC launch? What are some of the investment opportunities occurring within the industry?

Ramon Jimenez Jr.
DOT Secretary – Ramon Jimenez Jr.

People need to come to terms with the fact that we may be getting too impatient with this industry we call tourism that is highly dependent on people. We actually live in a world today, where the foundations creating an atmosphere conducive to travel have already been established. And we immediately expect that the entire tourism industry, therefore, must move ahead just as quickly.

But when you look at the other side of the narrative of tourism, you will find that we, as ASEAN, as people, have come face to face with very real and very new challenges. We have to take into account things like mitigating climate change, developing sustainably, and integrating the poor. We have shifted our orientation for tourism to be not only about counting passengers coming out of an airplane. It is about how many people are included in this activity through the creation of jobs and what we need to do to sustain this kind of tourism. And therefore, we need to be patient.

Because our islands are too finite to make environmental mistakes, and we value our people so much that it will be unfair for us to just throw a rough shot into any kind of tourism development. And so as ASEAN, we will do it— and we will do it right the first time.

We’re very proud of the agreements that we have forged as a community, particularly in this high growth industry. In the recent ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) 2016 held in the country, the different tourism ministers have recently launched the ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan (ATSP) 2016-2025, which includes enhancing the competitiveness of ASEAN as a single tourism destination and ensuring that the growth in the industry is sustainable and inclusive.

In the same way, together with the different ASEAN ministers, we also launched the Cruise Southeast Asia Brand, to consolidate the region’s efforts in creating an exciting cruise circuit in this part of the world.

On human resources development, the Mutual Recognition Agreement for Tourism Professionals (MRA-TP) paves the way for the standardization of criteria and facilitation of procedures, critical to the integration agenda.

You recently mentioned with over half a million visitors from the Middle East, ASEAN, and India that Halal services will be extended, when can that expect to take place and become widely available to Muslim tourists to the Philippines? 

Filipinos across the globe have become some of the most established business solutions, in the maritime industry, hospital care industry, BPO industry, and of course in the hospitality industry. And because of this, we have become to be known as one of the world’s best hosts. We welcome people by allowing them to take part in our society, in our country, and in our culture. We are inviting the whole world to come to the Philippines. But when it comes to the simple act of, for example, sharing a meal, there are a number of people that we are not able to accommodate fully. And simply because they commit to a certain way of living, and therefore, require a specific set of standards that we have yet to provide.

Culture - The Banaue Rice Terraces are 2,000-year-old terraces that were carved into the mountains of Ifugao in the Philippines by ancestors of the indigenous people. Photo : Imran Saddique
Culture – The Banaue Rice Terraces are 2,000-year-old terraces that were carved into the mountains of Ifugao in the Philippines by ancestors of the indigenous people. Photo : Imran Saddique

While market development of Middle East and Asian Moslem countries has been pursued more vigorously and while interest from these markets is high, the country needs to step up to be able to fully welcome all of our visitors. And this is why the Department initiated the Philippine Halal Tourism Project with the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) and Halal International Chamber of Commerce and Industries of the Philippines (HICCIP) to finally be able to welcome Halal conscious travelers to the different destinations of the country. Last 7 April 2016 during the Madrid Fusion Manila Trade Expo, the Department launched the Philippine Halal Tourism Project with an announcement and recognition of the initial 16 establishments which are already successfully halal certified. There are still applications in process, and we are targeting to have at least 50 certified establishments in major destinations such as Manila, Cebu, Boracay, and Davao to apply for Halal certification this year. With this milestone, we have finally broken real ground and real progress. Finally we have stopped talking about Halal and started doing it.

Sunset at Mt. Pulag. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Department of Tourism. Photographed by Rommel Bundalian
Sunset at Mt. Pulag. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Department of Tourism. Photographed by Rommel Bundalian

Eventually, with more facilities adhering to these set standards, the Philippines will be seen as a preferred tourism destination that caters to more Halal conscious travelers. Through this program, we are finally able to fulfill our mandate and nature as Filipinos – our unique and special brand of welcome through food that is proper and acceptable. This in turn will enable us to welcome a bigger part of the world’s population, who have been waiting to visit our shores.

When we last spoke in 2013 you mentioned that by 2016 the Philippines will have 10-12 international gateways capable of receiving Airbus 330’s and by the end of 2016 you projected a total of 56.1 million domestic trips and $10 billion in tourism receipts. Are you still on track to reach these figures? 

Click to enlarge - Source (DOTP)
Click to enlarge – Source (DOTP)

We have to take into consideration that if you look at the Philippines, while we are experiencing all of this growth, it is only very recently that the entire country has started to work on increasing capacity to address the surge in demand. It is only very recently that we are bringing a more concerted, well-planned, and disciplined approach in developing the country’s tourism. In fact, it is only this administration that we have begun to see tourism as a national business promoting inclusive growth.

The growth that we see in the Philippines today is a result of the entire population being really enthusiastic about this business, so much so that it has become an integral part of our lives. And because tourism is now being taken seriously, it is likewise gaining a significant amount of support from other government agencies, such as the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).

There is now a deliberate and conscious initiative for convergence programs for the development of the tourism industry, not only in terms of planning, but more importantly, in terms of budget allocation.

NAIA has been rehabilitated over the years. More airports in other provinces now have night landing capabilities, enabling them to expand their operations. We are now seeing other seaports, aside from the port in Manila, being developed for cruise tourism.

Twin Lagoons in Coron, Palawan. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Department of Tourism. Photographed by Christian Sangoyo
Twin Lagoons in Coron, Palawan. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Department of Tourism. Photographed by Christian Sangoyo

Tourism in the Philippines now involves around 5 million people directly involved in the industry, which is 12.7 percent compared to the total number of people employed in the country. We’re actually ahead of our targets for our domestic travelers. As of 2014, we recorded 54.6 million domestic travelers, already surpassing our target of 51.7 million for 2015 a year ahead of schedule. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, expenditures of domestic travelers alone for 2014 were at PHP 1.47 trillion—or around USD 30 billion.

Click to enlarge - Source (DOTP)
Click to enlarge – Source (DOTP)

The Filipino is the energy and the spirit behind what is driving the growth of our country today. And with our renewed confidence in our country, more and more people from around the world are able to see how open we are in allowing visitors to share in our joy. We had 5.36 million international visitors in 2015, and we are hopeful that this number will increase. For international arrivals, as of 2014, we have already reached PHP 247.6 billion in terms of receipts, which is roughly more than USD 5.5 billion dollars.

Of course with the increasing demand, comes the need to expand in terms of capacity. But we tend to forget that beyond the capacity in terms of runways, and ports, and railways, there is a greater capacity attached to people. More crucial is the ability of people to cope with the increasing demand.

And in the Philippines, the adaptability of the country has always been rooted in its people—in their ability to adapt, remain friendly, exhibit resilience in the most challenging situations.

Lack of infrastructure has hindered the opportunity to capitalize on the work being done by the DOT in promoting the Philippines. What improvements to road networks, airports are in the current pipeline? And what direct benefit will that have on creating jobs within the country? 

Infrastructure plays a huge role on the number of tourists who are able to enter and move around any country. And this is the reason why the DOT, with the support of other agencies in government, have worked towards opening other gateways in the country, spreading air traffic and tourism activity to other parts of the islands.

Crumbling infrastructure in the disaster prone Philippines has hindered growth across sectors. Photo: Imran Saddique
Crumbling infrastructure in the disaster prone Philippines has hindered growth across sectors. Photo: Imran Saddique

This is not only the case for the Philippines. In fact, at the Routes Asia 2016 conference recently held in Manila, it was highlighted that most Asian airports have reached their saturation point, with the positive growth and interest in the region.

And so to decongest Manila, new air services agreements have been entered into, as well as updated, to improve access and connectivity to other international airports and secondary airports out of Manila. Moreover, there are continuous airport developments in support of the implementation of the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) 2011-2016, namely: Puerto Princesa in Luzon; Iloilo, Bacolod-Silay, and New Bohol (Panglao) in Visayas; and Languindingan and Davao in Mindanao.

In terms of roads, through the convergence program of the DOT and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the country was able to invest a total amount of PHP 60.48 billion from 2011 to 2015, more than three times than the PHP 13.79 billion allocated for the years 2006 to 2010. In fact, for 2016, we are investing more than PHP 22 billion. The whole program covers more than 2,500 kilometers of roads, benefitting around 70 provinces, more than 300 cities and municipalities, and thousands of barangays. A road infrastructure program this extensive is a first for the country. And our vision of a fiscal reform focused on infrastructure is finally becoming a reality.

It is likewise only during the last few years that we began to take cruise tourism seriously in this country. And it is only natural that we focus on this product.

Because aside from the fact that this product encourages longer stays and higher spending, it is perfect for a country made up of more than 7,107 islands, all surrounded by water. Ports of call are now expanding beyond the metro, withcruise ports emerging in destinations such as La Union, Palawan, Bohol, Cebu, Leyte, Boracay, and Surigao del Norte. By prioritizing cruise tourism as one of the country’s key products, the country has attracted recognized cruise lines around the world, including Costa Cruises, Star Cruises, and the Royal Caribbean International.

Through the prioritization of key programs for infrastructure, we are enabling tourists to have a more seamless experience travelling to, from, and around the country. And ultimately, by diversifying our gateways, expanding our road networks, and increasing our ports, we are enabling more Filipinos from different parts of the country to participate in the tourism business.

What would you expect from the next presidency in terms of his/her tourism strategy and in terms of infrastructure financing? 

The Department is currently finalizing the new NTDP 2016-2022, which will serve as the roadmap for tourism development for the following administration.

Expected to build on and sustain the momentum of the country, it is a product of numerous consultations with the various tourism stakeholders, at all levels, that the Department has worked with during this administration.

With the increasing international interest on the Philippines as a tourism destination, the new NTDP will now include a Medium-Term Investment Program to prioritize and streamline investments into tourism development areas (TDAs) and help address tourism transportation infrastructure needs. The new administration may also seek the technical and financial support from international development organizations for PPP (public-private partnership) schemes.

With all of these in place, our hope is that next administration will continue to sustain the momentum that our country is enjoying today. Now that we have truly ushered in the era of modern Philippine tourism, we must continue to support tourism as the future and career of the Filipino people. We must not fear growth, just because we are discouraged with some challenges. The world is now focusing on Asia. And although our share in terms of arrivals are not as large as other countries, we are one of the fastest growing countries, particularly in tourism. We have to nurture this growth. Because the Philippines deserves a visit from the world. Because the Filipino deserves a share of Asia’s development.

Batangas - One of the most popular tourist destinations near Metro Manila. Photo: Imran Saddique
Batangas – One of the most popular tourist destinations near Metro Manila. Photo: Imran Saddique

NAIA was continuously dubbed as ‘the world’s worst airport’, having recently lost the tag with refurbishment to Terminal 1 and the opening of Terminal 3, what improvements can travelers expect from NAIA in 2016?

After four years of being in the list of the Worst Airports in the World, we are proud to note that in 2015, we have been dislodged completely from the list. And while we are gradually seeing the fruits of our efforts, there are naturally bigger and newer challenges that we have to address. In fact, if you go around the world today, the growth of travel is so fast, that even the largest airports now are getting crowded.

A number of repairs have started in the NAIA terminals since last year and these have significantly improved the aesthetics as well as operations of said terminals. For instance, labor, transportation, justice and local government officials have recently signed an agreement to improve airport security screening. In Terminal 3, the Premium Bus was newly launched to improve transport services on a 24-hour basis. And finally, the Department of Transportation and Communications has likewise tapped NATS, a British firm, for airport optimization and improve traffic management on the runway and in the air.

With City of Dreams coming online as the latest premier entertainment destination, joining Resorts World Manila and Solaire Resort & Casino (and the upcoming Tiger Resorts), what is the DOT’s role in promoting the gaming and entertainment industry? As a result, what are the benefits to Filipinos?

With the great strides that the current administration has achieved in enhancing the world’s perception of the country, the outlook for the country’s tourism has been positive, both from a business standpoint and as an exciting destination.

And with renewed interest from the international community, tourism is now seen as a profitable industry, prompting new investments in the gaming and the entertainment, with the expansion of Entertainment City and the entry of new brands such as the Conrad Manila. The development of the Philippine gaming industry is part of the Department’s plans to develop leisure and entertainment tourism as one of the nine core products identified in the NTDP 2011-2016. With the promotion of Manila, the “Capital of Fun”, as a preferred entertainment destination, and with proper regulation and management, we will be able to increase the spending of inbound visitors and create greater impact by providing more employment for the Filipino people.

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Reading Time: 12 minutes

The ‘Its more fun in the Philippines’ campaign launched in 2012 to attract more visitors was lauded as a ‘remarkable success’ by Warc 100 and took on a life of its own with citizens sharing their own versions of the catchy slogan put together by the Tourism Promotion Board Philippines (TPBP).

Reading Time: 12 minutes

The ‘Its more fun in the Philippines’ campaign launched in 2012 to attract more visitors was lauded as a ‘remarkable success’ by Warc 100 and took on a life of its own with citizens sharing their own versions of the catchy slogan put together by the Tourism Promotion Board Philippines (TPBP).

DOT campaign

Yet despite being ‘more fun’ and having over 7000+ Islands, the Philippines has lagged behind other ASEAN nations being the last of 6 major economies in ASEAN in tourism arrivals and receipts.

Netizens took on the campaign as their own with their sense of humour prevailing even during times of disaster
Netizens took part in the campaign with witty captions accompanying ‘More fun in the Philippines’

We talk to Tourism Secretary of the Philippines Ramon Jimenez Jr. on his departments strategy to increase tourism arrivals, receipts, develop infrastructure while preserving the Islands. The overly ambitious target of 10 million international visitors in 2015 was not met with just over 5 million heading to the archipelago, target for 2016 is now 6 million visitors. He tells us that infrastructure is a key priority, plans to bring in Muslim tourists and what to expect when the new President takes office in the Philippines.

What source markets grew the most over 2015? What markets are you targeting for 2016?

Click to enlarge - Source (DOTP)
Click to enlarge – Source (DOTP)

Korea, USA, Japan, China, and Australia continued to be our top five markets delivering bulk of our arrivals in 2015. Completing the country’s top producers are Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Canada, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, and Germany.

China has bounced back in 2015, showing the highest growth rate among the country’s source markets at 24.28 percent. This is followed by Taiwan, with an increase of 24.27 percent; the United Kingdom, which showed a 15.65 percent growth; Korea, which posted a 13.97 increase; and Malaysia, garnering a 11.90 percent growth.

Other high growth markets are Spain (+24.76%), New Zealand (+16.24%), France (+16.84%), Saudi Arabia (+17.02%), and the Netherlands (+13.46%), and Hong Kong (+7.08).

The DOT has focused efforts on India, Russia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Middle East, as these markets exhibit high growth and increased spending internationally. Moreover, these are the markets that have shown positive responses towards the Department’s promotional and tactical efforts.

2015 was labeled as ‘Visit the Philippines Year 2015’. What was the thinking behind the ‘Visit the Philippines Again 2016’? What do you say to the criticism that this lacks creativity and alienates first time visitors?

Click to enlarge - Source (DOTP)
Click to enlarge – Source (DOTP)

Inspired by the success of the Visit the Philippines Year (VPY) 2015 campaign, the Department of Tourism (DOT), together with its attached agencies, launching the Visit the Philippines Again (VPA) 2016. As the Philippines is a multi-experience destination, every trip to the country is bound to be memorable and unique. Therefore, because there are always new reasons to enjoy the country, VPA 2016 is an invitation to visitors to rediscover and fall in love with the Philippines all over again.

With repeat visitors comprising an estimated 60 percent of the country’s arrivals in 2014, VPA aims to build on the previous campaign in gaining higher visitor influx and repeat visitors. However, unlike VPY 2015, which was heavily focused on events, VPA 2016 is envisioned to be the most massive retail-focused effort that the Philippines have ever made. In partnership with the private sector, VPA 2016 includes special packages and promos to incentivize visitors who are returning for a second, third, or even fourth time in the country. VPA changes the way the game is played in South East Asia, as it is meant to capitalize on the country’s strengths through an unexpected strategy. Moreover, with VPA enticing repeat visitors, it comes with stirring the curiosity among those who have not been in the country yet to find out why people visit a country more than once.

One of the most popular destinations in the Philippines, the Island of Palawan
One of the most popular destinations in the Philippines, the Island of Palawan. Photo: Imran Saddique

Other than the ‘eating will never be the same again’ campaign for the Madrid Fusion Manila 2016 food festival, what other campaigns are in the pipeline for promotion?

Coming from the first year of hosting Madrid Fusion Manila in 2015, the tagline “eating will never be the same again” signifies an increased appreciation and understanding on the evolution of dishes and tastes in the country for Madrid Fusion Manila 2016. Being the world’s most accomplished modern gastronomy conference, Madrid Fusion became the entry point that positioned the Philippines, specifically, Manila as the center of gastronomy in Asia.

Similarly, the World Street Food Congress is also going to be held this April and it is the first time that this gathering will be held outside of Singapore. The country is also set to welcome the Ironman 70.3 Asia Pacific Championship in August, establishing the country as a venue for world-class sporting events. Earlier this year, we also mounted the ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) 2016, as well as Routes Asia 2016.

The vibrant salcedo market in Makati offers a taste of the Filipino food trip culture. Photo: Imran Saddique
The vibrant salcedo market in Makati offers a taste of the Filipino food trip culture. Photo: Imran Saddique

Hosting events such as these allow us to expand the offerings of the Philippines by showing the multiple dimensions of the country. In turn, through these initiatives, we are gradually completing the image of the Philippines to the rest of the world, giving them concrete and convincing reasons to experience the country.

Sinulog Festival of Cebu. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Department of Tourism. Photographed by Hannah Reyes
Sinulog Festival of Cebu. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Department of Tourism. Photographed by Hannah Reyes

It seems that despite the ASEAN Economic Community, or AEC, being formally declared, the transition by member nations will be a slow and carefully thought-out process. What changes do you expect in 2016 within the tourism industry as a result of the AEC launch? What are some of the investment opportunities occurring within the industry?

Ramon Jimenez Jr.
DOT Secretary – Ramon Jimenez Jr.

People need to come to terms with the fact that we may be getting too impatient with this industry we call tourism that is highly dependent on people. We actually live in a world today, where the foundations creating an atmosphere conducive to travel have already been established. And we immediately expect that the entire tourism industry, therefore, must move ahead just as quickly.

But when you look at the other side of the narrative of tourism, you will find that we, as ASEAN, as people, have come face to face with very real and very new challenges. We have to take into account things like mitigating climate change, developing sustainably, and integrating the poor. We have shifted our orientation for tourism to be not only about counting passengers coming out of an airplane. It is about how many people are included in this activity through the creation of jobs and what we need to do to sustain this kind of tourism. And therefore, we need to be patient.

Because our islands are too finite to make environmental mistakes, and we value our people so much that it will be unfair for us to just throw a rough shot into any kind of tourism development. And so as ASEAN, we will do it— and we will do it right the first time.

We’re very proud of the agreements that we have forged as a community, particularly in this high growth industry. In the recent ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) 2016 held in the country, the different tourism ministers have recently launched the ASEAN Tourism Strategic Plan (ATSP) 2016-2025, which includes enhancing the competitiveness of ASEAN as a single tourism destination and ensuring that the growth in the industry is sustainable and inclusive.

In the same way, together with the different ASEAN ministers, we also launched the Cruise Southeast Asia Brand, to consolidate the region’s efforts in creating an exciting cruise circuit in this part of the world.

On human resources development, the Mutual Recognition Agreement for Tourism Professionals (MRA-TP) paves the way for the standardization of criteria and facilitation of procedures, critical to the integration agenda.

You recently mentioned with over half a million visitors from the Middle East, ASEAN, and India that Halal services will be extended, when can that expect to take place and become widely available to Muslim tourists to the Philippines? 

Filipinos across the globe have become some of the most established business solutions, in the maritime industry, hospital care industry, BPO industry, and of course in the hospitality industry. And because of this, we have become to be known as one of the world’s best hosts. We welcome people by allowing them to take part in our society, in our country, and in our culture. We are inviting the whole world to come to the Philippines. But when it comes to the simple act of, for example, sharing a meal, there are a number of people that we are not able to accommodate fully. And simply because they commit to a certain way of living, and therefore, require a specific set of standards that we have yet to provide.

Culture - The Banaue Rice Terraces are 2,000-year-old terraces that were carved into the mountains of Ifugao in the Philippines by ancestors of the indigenous people. Photo : Imran Saddique
Culture – The Banaue Rice Terraces are 2,000-year-old terraces that were carved into the mountains of Ifugao in the Philippines by ancestors of the indigenous people. Photo : Imran Saddique

While market development of Middle East and Asian Moslem countries has been pursued more vigorously and while interest from these markets is high, the country needs to step up to be able to fully welcome all of our visitors. And this is why the Department initiated the Philippine Halal Tourism Project with the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) and Halal International Chamber of Commerce and Industries of the Philippines (HICCIP) to finally be able to welcome Halal conscious travelers to the different destinations of the country. Last 7 April 2016 during the Madrid Fusion Manila Trade Expo, the Department launched the Philippine Halal Tourism Project with an announcement and recognition of the initial 16 establishments which are already successfully halal certified. There are still applications in process, and we are targeting to have at least 50 certified establishments in major destinations such as Manila, Cebu, Boracay, and Davao to apply for Halal certification this year. With this milestone, we have finally broken real ground and real progress. Finally we have stopped talking about Halal and started doing it.

Sunset at Mt. Pulag. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Department of Tourism. Photographed by Rommel Bundalian
Sunset at Mt. Pulag. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Department of Tourism. Photographed by Rommel Bundalian

Eventually, with more facilities adhering to these set standards, the Philippines will be seen as a preferred tourism destination that caters to more Halal conscious travelers. Through this program, we are finally able to fulfill our mandate and nature as Filipinos – our unique and special brand of welcome through food that is proper and acceptable. This in turn will enable us to welcome a bigger part of the world’s population, who have been waiting to visit our shores.

When we last spoke in 2013 you mentioned that by 2016 the Philippines will have 10-12 international gateways capable of receiving Airbus 330’s and by the end of 2016 you projected a total of 56.1 million domestic trips and $10 billion in tourism receipts. Are you still on track to reach these figures? 

Click to enlarge - Source (DOTP)
Click to enlarge – Source (DOTP)

We have to take into consideration that if you look at the Philippines, while we are experiencing all of this growth, it is only very recently that the entire country has started to work on increasing capacity to address the surge in demand. It is only very recently that we are bringing a more concerted, well-planned, and disciplined approach in developing the country’s tourism. In fact, it is only this administration that we have begun to see tourism as a national business promoting inclusive growth.

The growth that we see in the Philippines today is a result of the entire population being really enthusiastic about this business, so much so that it has become an integral part of our lives. And because tourism is now being taken seriously, it is likewise gaining a significant amount of support from other government agencies, such as the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC).

There is now a deliberate and conscious initiative for convergence programs for the development of the tourism industry, not only in terms of planning, but more importantly, in terms of budget allocation.

NAIA has been rehabilitated over the years. More airports in other provinces now have night landing capabilities, enabling them to expand their operations. We are now seeing other seaports, aside from the port in Manila, being developed for cruise tourism.

Twin Lagoons in Coron, Palawan. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Department of Tourism. Photographed by Christian Sangoyo
Twin Lagoons in Coron, Palawan. Photo courtesy of the Philippine Department of Tourism. Photographed by Christian Sangoyo

Tourism in the Philippines now involves around 5 million people directly involved in the industry, which is 12.7 percent compared to the total number of people employed in the country. We’re actually ahead of our targets for our domestic travelers. As of 2014, we recorded 54.6 million domestic travelers, already surpassing our target of 51.7 million for 2015 a year ahead of schedule. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, expenditures of domestic travelers alone for 2014 were at PHP 1.47 trillion—or around USD 30 billion.

Click to enlarge - Source (DOTP)
Click to enlarge – Source (DOTP)

The Filipino is the energy and the spirit behind what is driving the growth of our country today. And with our renewed confidence in our country, more and more people from around the world are able to see how open we are in allowing visitors to share in our joy. We had 5.36 million international visitors in 2015, and we are hopeful that this number will increase. For international arrivals, as of 2014, we have already reached PHP 247.6 billion in terms of receipts, which is roughly more than USD 5.5 billion dollars.

Of course with the increasing demand, comes the need to expand in terms of capacity. But we tend to forget that beyond the capacity in terms of runways, and ports, and railways, there is a greater capacity attached to people. More crucial is the ability of people to cope with the increasing demand.

And in the Philippines, the adaptability of the country has always been rooted in its people—in their ability to adapt, remain friendly, exhibit resilience in the most challenging situations.

Lack of infrastructure has hindered the opportunity to capitalize on the work being done by the DOT in promoting the Philippines. What improvements to road networks, airports are in the current pipeline? And what direct benefit will that have on creating jobs within the country? 

Infrastructure plays a huge role on the number of tourists who are able to enter and move around any country. And this is the reason why the DOT, with the support of other agencies in government, have worked towards opening other gateways in the country, spreading air traffic and tourism activity to other parts of the islands.

Crumbling infrastructure in the disaster prone Philippines has hindered growth across sectors. Photo: Imran Saddique
Crumbling infrastructure in the disaster prone Philippines has hindered growth across sectors. Photo: Imran Saddique

This is not only the case for the Philippines. In fact, at the Routes Asia 2016 conference recently held in Manila, it was highlighted that most Asian airports have reached their saturation point, with the positive growth and interest in the region.

And so to decongest Manila, new air services agreements have been entered into, as well as updated, to improve access and connectivity to other international airports and secondary airports out of Manila. Moreover, there are continuous airport developments in support of the implementation of the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) 2011-2016, namely: Puerto Princesa in Luzon; Iloilo, Bacolod-Silay, and New Bohol (Panglao) in Visayas; and Languindingan and Davao in Mindanao.

In terms of roads, through the convergence program of the DOT and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), the country was able to invest a total amount of PHP 60.48 billion from 2011 to 2015, more than three times than the PHP 13.79 billion allocated for the years 2006 to 2010. In fact, for 2016, we are investing more than PHP 22 billion. The whole program covers more than 2,500 kilometers of roads, benefitting around 70 provinces, more than 300 cities and municipalities, and thousands of barangays. A road infrastructure program this extensive is a first for the country. And our vision of a fiscal reform focused on infrastructure is finally becoming a reality.

It is likewise only during the last few years that we began to take cruise tourism seriously in this country. And it is only natural that we focus on this product.

Because aside from the fact that this product encourages longer stays and higher spending, it is perfect for a country made up of more than 7,107 islands, all surrounded by water. Ports of call are now expanding beyond the metro, withcruise ports emerging in destinations such as La Union, Palawan, Bohol, Cebu, Leyte, Boracay, and Surigao del Norte. By prioritizing cruise tourism as one of the country’s key products, the country has attracted recognized cruise lines around the world, including Costa Cruises, Star Cruises, and the Royal Caribbean International.

Through the prioritization of key programs for infrastructure, we are enabling tourists to have a more seamless experience travelling to, from, and around the country. And ultimately, by diversifying our gateways, expanding our road networks, and increasing our ports, we are enabling more Filipinos from different parts of the country to participate in the tourism business.

What would you expect from the next presidency in terms of his/her tourism strategy and in terms of infrastructure financing? 

The Department is currently finalizing the new NTDP 2016-2022, which will serve as the roadmap for tourism development for the following administration.

Expected to build on and sustain the momentum of the country, it is a product of numerous consultations with the various tourism stakeholders, at all levels, that the Department has worked with during this administration.

With the increasing international interest on the Philippines as a tourism destination, the new NTDP will now include a Medium-Term Investment Program to prioritize and streamline investments into tourism development areas (TDAs) and help address tourism transportation infrastructure needs. The new administration may also seek the technical and financial support from international development organizations for PPP (public-private partnership) schemes.

With all of these in place, our hope is that next administration will continue to sustain the momentum that our country is enjoying today. Now that we have truly ushered in the era of modern Philippine tourism, we must continue to support tourism as the future and career of the Filipino people. We must not fear growth, just because we are discouraged with some challenges. The world is now focusing on Asia. And although our share in terms of arrivals are not as large as other countries, we are one of the fastest growing countries, particularly in tourism. We have to nurture this growth. Because the Philippines deserves a visit from the world. Because the Filipino deserves a share of Asia’s development.

Batangas - One of the most popular tourist destinations near Metro Manila. Photo: Imran Saddique
Batangas – One of the most popular tourist destinations near Metro Manila. Photo: Imran Saddique

NAIA was continuously dubbed as ‘the world’s worst airport’, having recently lost the tag with refurbishment to Terminal 1 and the opening of Terminal 3, what improvements can travelers expect from NAIA in 2016?

After four years of being in the list of the Worst Airports in the World, we are proud to note that in 2015, we have been dislodged completely from the list. And while we are gradually seeing the fruits of our efforts, there are naturally bigger and newer challenges that we have to address. In fact, if you go around the world today, the growth of travel is so fast, that even the largest airports now are getting crowded.

A number of repairs have started in the NAIA terminals since last year and these have significantly improved the aesthetics as well as operations of said terminals. For instance, labor, transportation, justice and local government officials have recently signed an agreement to improve airport security screening. In Terminal 3, the Premium Bus was newly launched to improve transport services on a 24-hour basis. And finally, the Department of Transportation and Communications has likewise tapped NATS, a British firm, for airport optimization and improve traffic management on the runway and in the air.

With City of Dreams coming online as the latest premier entertainment destination, joining Resorts World Manila and Solaire Resort & Casino (and the upcoming Tiger Resorts), what is the DOT’s role in promoting the gaming and entertainment industry? As a result, what are the benefits to Filipinos?

With the great strides that the current administration has achieved in enhancing the world’s perception of the country, the outlook for the country’s tourism has been positive, both from a business standpoint and as an exciting destination.

And with renewed interest from the international community, tourism is now seen as a profitable industry, prompting new investments in the gaming and the entertainment, with the expansion of Entertainment City and the entry of new brands such as the Conrad Manila. The development of the Philippine gaming industry is part of the Department’s plans to develop leisure and entertainment tourism as one of the nine core products identified in the NTDP 2011-2016. With the promotion of Manila, the “Capital of Fun”, as a preferred entertainment destination, and with proper regulation and management, we will be able to increase the spending of inbound visitors and create greater impact by providing more employment for the Filipino people.

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