TPB officials push into Middle East market by attending Dubai expo

TPB COO Ma. Anthonette Velasco-Allones

AS the Philippines reopens to foreign tourists from visa-free countries on February 10, hopes are high that a good-sized number of them will be coming from the Middle East (ME).

The country’s tourism officials are currently in Dubai to attend the much-delayed Dubai Expo 2020, where the Philippines Pavilion—  spanning 1,386 square meters on a 3,163.25-sq-m lot—is reputed to be the largest the Philippines has ever showcased in any expo.

Messaging from Dubai, Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) COO Ma. Antonette Velasco-Allones told the BusinessMirror she was elated with the number of meetings that has been requested with her. These include an audience with counterpart tourism officials and dialogues with travel buyers. “Despite the pandemic, this shows we are still top of mind in many markets,” she said.

Velasco-Allones and other tourism officials will also attend the celebration of Philippines National Day in Dubai on February 11 and launch the Philippine Food Festival in Abu Dhabi on February 12. TPB is the marketing arm of the Department of Tourism (DOT). The Dubai Expo is ongoing until March 31, 2022.

Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, arrivals from the ME slipped by 10.4 percent to 73,703, although the drop was smaller than the 11.34-percent fall to 82,251 in 2018. Visa-free countries in the ME include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

‘Create the demand’

According to the National Tourism Development Plan for 2016-2022, the ME, along with India and Russia, are considered “opportunity markets” or “new emerging markets” due to their large populations. However, “demand has to be created if not improved” and the Philippines has to foster closer business relationships with their travel trade sector, “[through] the development of tour programs and itineraries [and] invitational trips….”

The NTDP added, “The continued presence in travel trade fairs held in the primary urban capitals will also be a vehicle to create interest in the trade. The web and social media can be a cost efficient tool for both general publicity and advertising purposes.” Due to the Covid-19 travel restrictions and their impact on global tourism, the DOT has yet to pin down actual tourist arrivals per market.

The DOT had earlier projected a 31.5 percent increase in visitor arrivals from the ME to 108,170 in 2019, with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait accounting for the largest shares.

Shopping and sightseeing are the main activities of the tourists from the ME, and among the main purposes of visit are for pleasure or vacation, business, and visiting friends and relatives.

Philippines Pavilion

The DOT has identified the need for more Halal restaurants and Arabic speakers as a key to attracting more visitors from ME.

Meanwhile, the Philippines Pavilion, dubbed “Bangkota,” was designed by architects Budji Layug and Royal Pineda. “Bangkota” means coral reef in old Tagalog, and evokes the character of the country’s citizens and their global impact. “The Filipino—much like a coral reef—grows into colonies, spread out all over the world; and yet still connected by migration, travel, and technology,” according to the design notes on the pavilion.

Bangkota is located in the Sustainability District of the expo and has art pieces by renowned Filipino artists, anchoring specific spaces in the pavilion. It also showcases artisanal, contemporary and practical luxury products and designer pieces, crafted locally, and the Mangrove Restaurant, which features delectable Filipino dishes.


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