Teo admits 2018 arrivals goal imperiled by Boracay closure

Photo from http://chinesetouristagency.com

THE first two months of 2018 brought in some 1.41 million tourists to the country, up 16.2 percent from the same period last year.

In a news statement, the Department of Tourism (DOT) attributed the increase in arrivals to the substantial increase in Chinese tourists. “The warming relations between the Philippines and China, plus the Chinese New Year seven-day holiday, strengthen the platform for us to jump-start our campaign of achieving 1.5 million Chinese arrivals for this year,” Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon T. Teo said.

This developed even as the DOT chief admitted that the government’s full-year arrivals target might be affected if Boracay Island is closed for a year.

“That’s why we’re sticking with our proposal to the President that the closure will only be for two months,” or from April 26 to June 25. “If it’s one year, pano naman yung arrivals [target] ko?” she said. Task Force Boracay, headed by Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, is recommending that Boracay be put under a state of calamity for six months, and closed off to tourists for a maximum of one year.

Under the National Tourism Development Plan for 2016-2022, the Duterte administration is targetting foreign visitor arrivals of 7.5 million for 2018. Last year foreign tourists in Boracay exceeded 1 million, accounting for some 17 percent of the country’s foreign visitor arrivals of 6 million.

The top source of foreign tourists continues to be South Korea, with arrivals reaching 354,700 in the first two months of the year, and posting an increase of some 16.3 percent from the same period last year. This was followed by China, with 256,880 arrivals, which grew by an “an impressive 56.44 percent,” edging out the usual second top-ranked market, the United States.

“The record-breaking Chinese arrivals to the Philippines is a testament that we’ve become one of the top destinations for the Chinese market,” Teo said. Most of the Chinese tourists go to beach destinations like Boracay, Cebu and Bohol.

In third place was the US with 193,985 arrivals, up 7.83 percent; followed by Japan at 117,300 (+11.2 percent); and Australia at 50,404 (+5.05 percent). Rounding up the top source market for tourists are Canada 48,191 (+11.1 percent); Taiwan 40,856, which slipped by 3.6 percent; the United Kingdom 33,554 (+8.33 percent); Singapore 28,117 (+11.09 percent); Malaysia 24,334 (+12.9 percent); India 23,064 (+18.7 percent); and Hong Kong 22,920 (+26.1 percent).

The DOT, however, failed to release again its visitor receipts for the period.

“For the first two months, we have already breached the 1.4-million tourist mark, another first in the history, and it is a good sign for the tourism industry,” Teo said.

Meanwhile, the DOT pointed out that the Philippines ranked ninth in the top destinations for Chinese outbound tourists, citing figures from TravelChinaGuide, a leading Chinese travel agency.

According to the 2018 Spring Festival Travel Forecast Report issued by Ctrip, China’s largest online travel provider, and the China Tourism Academy, the Philippines was also named eighth most popular Chinese travel destination during the Chinese New Year.

Teo said the continued rise in the number of foreign guests bodes well for the higher targets set by the DOT, amid the government’s plan to temporarily close Boracay to tourists and rehabilitate its drainage, sewerage and road systems to address water pollution, flooding and traffic problems.

“We welcome this increase in our arrivals as we brace for the possible effects of the Boracay, rehabilitation. We remain optimistic that the ‘new’ Boracay after its beauty rest, will attract more tourists and help the industry break more records,” she stressed.

In a news conference, Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez of the Fourth District of Leyte, chairman of the House Committee on Tourism, on Wednesday backed a temporary closure of the island, noting that such a drastic move is needed to address several issues, including the discharge of untreated wastewater into the famous white-sand beach.

The Boracay Island’s temporary closure is one of the recommendations listed in its committee report to promote sustainability of the island.

According to Torres-Gomez, the committee has taken into account the economic implications of a temporary closure, as the island brought in P60 billion in tourism receipts in 2016.

“A closure would then result in monthly losses estimated at P5 billion. This is definitely a hefty, and both business establishments and residents will suffer the consequences. However, on balance, the committee put more weight on the long-term viability and sustainability of tourism in Boracay, versus the short-term economic collateral damage that comes with closing its doors to incoming tourist,” Gomez said.

“With a heavy heart, the chairman would like to convey deep empathy to those who will be affected by such a temporary closure. Temporary closure may be likened to a bitter pill that needs to be taken in order to cure the symptoms and causes of a nagging disease,” she added.

With Jovee Marie N. dela Cruz 

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Turning Points 2018