Inbound ‘tourist’ numbers plunge 98% on Covid curbs

Monthly visitor arrivals in the first quarter of 2021 (Infograph courtesy DOT)

TRAVEL restrictions here and around the world continue to reduce the number of visitors to the Philippines.

In the first quarter of 2021, the country welcomed 29,383 visitors, a 97.9-percent fall from the 1.4-million arrivals in the same period last year, according to data provided by the Department of Tourism (DOT). The data was based on arrival cards from the Bureau of Immigration (BI).

Of the total arrivals, 3,823 were overseas Filipinos, i.e., Philippine passport holders permanently residing abroad, but not overseas Filipino workers, the DOT also said.

While the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases prohibits the entry of leisure tourists, the DOT based their visitors data on the BI arrival cards, where passengers filled up “pleasure” as their primary purpose. Also, starting March 17, inbound travelers included “foreign spouses, minor children including children with special needs, regardless of age, of Filipino nationals as well as foreign parents of minor.”

Sea travelers were also not included in DOT’s headcount as they arrived mainly for “foreign repatriation, change crew, or joining and bunkering.”

Top source markets

The United States was the top source market for visitors from January to March, with 5,226 arrivals (down 97.4 percent); followed by Japan at 3,232 (-97.6 percent); China 1,866 (-99 percent); India 1,395 (-94.7 percent); and Turkey  1,080 (-56.5 percent).

Other foreigners arrived from South Korea 1,052 (-99.7 percent); Saudi Arabia 777 (-88 percent); the United Kingdom 679 (-98.2 percent); Canada 630 (-98.8 percent); United Arab Emirates 617 (-57.8 percent); Commonwealth of Independent States 407 (-87.8 percent); and Bahrain 380 (-37.09 percent).

Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, top source markets for foreign tourists were South Korea, China, the US, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, Canada, the UK, Singapore, Malaysia, and Germany. (See, “Visitor Arrivals In 2019 Breach 8.2-M Goal–DOT,” in the BusinessMirror, February 18, 2020.)

DFA advisory for dual citizens

The DOT, however, does not track the arrival of balikbayans (returning Filipinos), despite the agency having earlier pushed for the reopening of the country to such tourists. In the BI arrival cards, balikbayans are lumped together with returning residents as a category under the primary purpose of travel.

Under Republic Act 9174, or the Balikbayan Law, “The term balikbayan shall mean a Filipino citizen who has been continuously out of the Philippines for a period of at least one year, a Filipino overseas worker, or former Filipino citizen and his or her family, as this term is defined hereunder, who had been naturalized in a foreign country and comes or returns to the Philippines.”

Meanwhile, in an advisory last April 21, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) advised Filipino dual citizens who wish to travel to the Philippines to secure a valid Philippine passport, identification certificate, or certificate of re-acquisition/retention of Philippine citizenship, “to prevent any inconvenience with airline companies and immigration authorities.”

DFA added, the same “documents should also be presented upon departure. Failure to present the necessary documents as required by the immigration authorities shall warrant the imposition of fines and penalties imposed on foreigners.


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