The tourism sector has great potential to drive economic growth, generate jobs and open more economic opportunities in rural areas that used to fully rely on farming or fishing.
The Philippines boasts a wealth of natural beauty—from pristine beaches and vibrant coral reefs to majestic mountains and lush rainforests. This inherent allure has positioned the nation as a prime tourist destination.
Unlocking this potential, however, requires a strategic focus on infrastructure development.
Provinces like Benguet, Cebu, Bohol and Palawan have already witnessed a tourism boom, transforming their economies and showcasing the Philippines’ captivating charm. Palawan, for instance, earned the coveted title of “Trending Destination in the World for 2023,” while the Philippines itself was recognized as one of the “World’s Most Desirable Countries for Adventure in 2022,” and lauded for its breathtaking landscapes and timeless appeal.
But accessibility remains a challenge for many of our remote islands and hidden gems. Upgrading infrastructure is crucial to bridging this gap. Expanding ports and airports will accommodate larger vessels and international airlines, and lure a wider range of tourists.
The Philippines’ potential extends far beyond established tourist hotspots. Islands like Batanes, Camiguin, Guimaras, Romblon, Marinduque and Mindoro possess unique beauty and natural wonders waiting to be discovered. Mindanao, with its diverse landscapes and vibrant indigenous communities, offers an equally captivating experience.
The Philippines’ pristine reefs and atolls are considered some of the world’s best, attracting diving and marine life enthusiasts. In 2023, the country welcomed over five million international visitors, despite the lack of land borders, demonstrating the undeniable appeal of its natural wonders.
Per the Department of Tourism (DOT), some 5.45 million international visitors entered the country last year, of which more than 5 million visitors were foreigners and the rest were overseas Filipinos. This generated P482.54 billion in international tourism receipts, up 124 percent from P214.58 billion in 2022. The DOT recorded P482.15 billion in international tourism receipts in 2019 before the pandemic.
The DOT has ambitious plans for 2024 and aims to attract 7.7 million international visitors. To achieve the goal, infrastructure development must be prioritized.
Per the DOT data, the 2023 arrivals just represented a 66-percent recovery rate compared with the 2019 levels. More opportunities and jobs, thus, await workers in the tourism sector.
If we could widen our reach and improve our tourism infrastructure, we can double or triple the number of foreign visitors in the Philippines. Thailand and Malaysia, for example, each received nearly 30 million tourists last year.
Globally, international tourism is well on track to return to pre-pandemic levels by 2024, per the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). International tourism receipts reached $1.4 trillion last year, and the global industry is expected to fully recover its pre-pandemic levels in 2024, with initial estimates pointing to a 2-percent growth above 2019 levels.
In its World Tourism Barometer, the UNWTO reported that international tourism ended 2023 at 88 percent of pre-pandemic levels, with an estimated 1.3 billion international arrivals.
To ride on the global tourism recovery, we should prepare our infrastructure, facilities and services to accommodate the influx of visitors.
We need bigger ports and airports that will serve cruise ships and international airlines. We also need more roads to reach off-the-beaten-path gems, tourist rest areas in strategic locations, more hotels and resorts offering competitive rates, modern hospitals, medical facilities, retirement homes, entertainment facilities, etc.
I hope our modern railways will be completed soon to enhance mobility between Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon. The newly completed roads such as the extended Skyway and North Luzon Expressway have already helped improve the traffic situation in Metro Manila, and more are being built under the Marcos administration.
I also hope that more toll roads will be developed to make it more convenient for Filipinos and foreign tourists alike to travel across the country.
We should also clean up and enhance our river systems to make them more appealing to tourists. Resplendent and quaint cafes and restaurants in other countries line up neatly tiled riverbanks.
If we could enhance our river infrastructure in Metro Manila and in the provinces to world-class standards, these areas could potentially become tourist magnets.
Tourism infrastructure will definitely ensure the growth and sustainability of the industry. These should include tourism facilities and reliable communication networks that will make our visitors feel at home.
Some of our infrastructure projects also need upgrade to cater to tourists who embrace sustainability. This requires the government and the private sector to invest in green infrastructure, like mass transits that run on renewable energy, energy-efficient transportation such as bicycles and electric vehicles, as well as eco-friendly buildings and facilities.
By investing in infrastructure, the Philippines can unlock its full tourism potential, enhance our image as a nation and support the growth of our economy.
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