8-mo foreign tourist arrivals up 14% to 5.5M

VISITOR arrivals in the Philippines increased by 14.08 percent to 5.55 million in the period January to August 2019. On a monthly basis, foreign arrivals reached 702,843 in August 2019, up 27.54 percent from the 551,088 arrivals in August 2018.

Data from the Department of Tourism (DOT) showed South Koreans leading the pack of tourists in the country, rising by some 22.3 percent to 1.06 million. This indicates a substantial recovery in the market, which last year fell slightly by 0.91 percent in the same period to August 2018.

In an interview with the BusinessMirror, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat attributed the upswing in the South Korean market to the “reopening of Boracay. From zero arrivals in Kalibo last year, more than 42,000 tourists from Korea visited this top destination.” For August 2019 alone, arrivals from South Korea grew almost 43 percent to 185,334. She added the Korean arrivals in the airports of Manila and Cebu also “rose significantly.”

The second-largest source market for tourists in the eight months to August this year was China, which jumped by 39.16 percent to 1.21 million arrivals. The market also posted the highest growth rate among the Philippines’s top source markets for tourists.

Romulo Puyat noted the increasing number of Chinese tourists arriving via the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia), aside from their growing arrivals via Kalibo Airport “to visit the renewed Boracay Island.” In August 2019 alone, arrivals from China expanded by an overwhelming 60 percent to 170,903, dwarfing its 11-percent growth in August 2018.

In third place was the United States, with arrivals rising by 2.3 percent to 731,534 in the first eight months of the year. This year’s cumulative growth was lower than the 8.2-percent rise posted in the same period in 2018, possibly due to the travel advisory issued by the US Department of Homeland Security against the Philippines on security and safety concerns at the Naia. The warning was released in December 2018, and was only lifted in August.

In fourth place was Japan, which grew by a slight 6.84 percent to 461,333, just slightly higher than the 6.46-percent growth in the same period in 2018. On a monthly basis, however, arrivals from Japan grew a respectable 20.82 percent to 78,699, a massive leap from the 1.6-percent rise recorded in August 2018.

“Good news! Japan is gaining,” gushed Romulo Puyat, attributing the improvement in arrivals from the market to the massive promotions effort of the government and the private sector. Aside from using Japanese celebrities to attract the travel to the Philippines by the female market, President Duterte even met with leaders of Japan’s travel industry last May while leading the Philippine Business Mission. Members of the influential Japan Association of Travel Agents said then they would meet with Philippine stakeholders to “and explore possible areas of cooperation.” (See, “Japan travel agents to help develop, market PHL destinations,” in the BusinessMirror, May 31, 2019.)

The DOT chief added there were increasing numbers of Japanese travelers arriving via Naia and the Mactan International Airport in Cebu.

Arrivals from Taiwan also recorded a massive increase at 37.85 percent to 224,871, a turnaround from the 2.6-percent dip in the eight months to August 2018. The impressive hike was traced to stronger promotions.

On Taiwan’s heels were Australia at 181,725; Canada at 159,664; and the United Kingdom at 141,124.

Despite the strong performance of major source markets for tourists, the tourism sector isn’t out of the woods yet. Sluggish growth can be noted in the rest of the markets, with Singapore even dropping 9.54 percent to just 106,278 arrivals in the eight months to August.

Arrivals from Australia increased by only 1.72 percent compared, much lower than its 7-percent rise in January to August 2018. Tourists from Canada grew by only 5.52 percent in the first eight months of 2019, compared to the 12.53-percent rise in the same period in 2018.

The UK also slowed to a 3.26-percent growth in the January to August 2019 period, compared to the 9.32-percent increase in 2018, perhaps still due to the uncertainties brought on by Brexit, and its impact on the value of the British pound.

Lastly, arrivals from India saw a lower growth at 9.66 percent to 91,690 in the eight months to August 2019, from the 15.52-percent increase recorded in the same period in 2018.

The DOT aims to attract 8.2-million foreign tourists this year, up 15.5 percent from the 7.1-million arrivals in 2018. It hopes the reopening of Boracay Island will reinvigorate the arrivals from markets abroad.

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