DOT breaches industry targets for 2023; Frasco bullish on country’s continued tourism transformation under Marcos administration in 2024

The Department of Tourism (DOT) expressed bullishness on the continual transformation of Philippine tourism under the Marcos administration in the succeeding years, as it successfully breached its year-end targets and achieved milestones for 2023.

“In the face of unprecedented challenges, Philippine tourism has shown remarkable resilience. Since the beginning of the Marcos administration, we saw the country as being one of the last in the ASEAN to open up to tourism once again post-pandemic. The work that that demanded was innovation, adaptability, and the willingness to, as they say, get our hands dirty and do the work that had to be done to strengthen the pillars of Philippine tourism if only to give our country a fighting chance not only at recovery, but most importantly, at transformation. Under the visionary leadership of our President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., the Philippines has begun to witness the fruits of the plans that have been put in place under his vision for transformation,” Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco made the assertion on Tuesday (Dec. 12) during the Department’s Presentation of Accomplishments at the Dusit Thani Manila.

Recovering PH tourism numbers 

The tourism chief reported international visitor arrivals to the country not only surpassed the target but also breached the five-million mark before year-end.

“I am happy to report that as of December 12, we have breached the five-million mark in terms of international visitor arrivals contributing an impressive 439.50 billion pesos in receipts. With the holiday break fast approaching, we are confident we will further breach our earlier target of 4.8 million for 2023, underscoring our commitment to continuous growth for the industry and the economy,” Secretary Frasco said.

As of December 11, the Philippines has received a total of 5,069,752 international visitor arrivals. Of this number, 4,658,123 or 91.88 percent are foreign tourists, while the remaining 411,629 or 8.12 percent are Overseas Filipinos.

South Korea ranks first as the Philippines’ top source market with 1,341,029 arrivals, followed by the United States of America (USA) with 836,694; Japan with 285,655; China with 252,171; and Australia with 238,487. Meanwhile, Canada landed on the sixth place with 206,571, followed by Taiwan with 186,140, United Kingdom with 141,516, Singapore with 140,633, and Malaysia with 92,383.

According to the UNWTO World Tourism Barometer, the average recovery rate of the Asia Pacific region is at 62 percent from January to September. ​The Philippines’ recovery in terms of international tourist arrivals is bearing promising results as it has already reached 65.54 percent from January-September 2023.

In terms of visitor receipts, Secretary Frasco shared that the country is “recovering faster than expected” with PHP 458 billion visitor receipts from January to November this year, or already 95.85 percent of 2019 figures.​

Meanwhile, tourism created 5.35 million jobs from 2.6 million visitor arrivals in 2022, or 11 for every 100 Filipinos.

“We are optimistic this number will increase this year, anticipating that we will have twice as much foreign visitors that we received last year​. In pursuit of this growth direction, we are dedicated to creating a tourism landscape that is not only vibrant but also innovative. We have formulated policies that address government regulations that may not necessarily apply anymore especially with the post-pandemic landscape, and trying as best we can, in convergence with our fellow government agencies, to push for changes in regulation and the liberalization of visa policies coming into the Philippines, the ultimate goal of course, is to accomplish our President’s vision of the Philippines becoming a tourism powerhouse,” Secretary Frasco said.

Earlier this year, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. had approved the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) 2023-2028, which serves as the DOT’s roadmap in the next few years, with connectivity, convenience, and equality as key strategies.

Putting a premium on quality tourism infrastructure 

In keeping with the President’s vision for an enhanced tourist experience in the country, the DOT, under the leadership of Secretary Frasco, has prioritized the pursuit of impactful and sustainable infrastructure projects.

Among these is the construction of the flagship Tourist Rest Areas (TRA) in strategic locations in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao to assist travelers as they make their way to the country’s destinations. Envisioned as a one-stop-shop for tourists’ needs, each TRA is equipped with clean restrooms, a lounge area, lactation room, pasalubong center for buying local crafts and products, and an information desk.

To date, the DOT and its infrastructure arm, the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), have launched ten TRAs so far.

With connectivity as one of its key strategies, the DOT has also pursued a stronger collaboration with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in continuing existing projects, as well as identifying new projects under the Tourism Road Infrastructure Program or TRIP. This convergence allowed the construction of 158 kilometers of tourism roads.

In close partnership with the Department of Transportation (DOTr), the DOT has also embarked on the enhancement of the country’s gateways and increasing air connectivity of the country.

Secretary Frasco happily shared that “the Philippines has already recovered nearly 80 percent of its pre-COVID international incoming seat capacity. As of November 2023, there are over 1.4 million international seats available, vis-a-vis the one million recorded last year, and the 1.7 million recorded in 2019.” 

Reintroducing the Philippines to the world 

In welcoming the new era of Philippine tourism under the Marcos administration, the DOT unveiled the enhanced tourism campaign “Love the Philippines” which seeks to highlight to the world the country’s many tourism assets that go beyond fun and adventure, including the country’s natural assets, deep well of culture and history, gastronomy, among others.

In addition to an enhanced tourism campaign, the DOT through its centerpiece training program called the Filipino Brand of Service Excellence (FBSE) sought to enhance and uplift the quality of tourism services in the country anchored on the distinct Filipino brand of hospitality that is known all over the world, setting a target of training 100,000 workers by year-end, a target that the DOT successfully breached as early as October.

As of December 12, the number of FBSE-trained individuals has reached 124,116.

“Our effort to not just develop hard infrastructure but also soft infrastructure with focus on human capital development is part and parcel of the goal to capacitate our tourism workers in our bid to empower them and, in turn, increase tourism revenues across the entire tourism economy,” Secretary Frasco said.

Aggressive diversification and equal promotion of tourism products 

With (E)quality as its third key strategy, the DOT also led efforts to equalize tourism opportunities across the Philippines’ regions, providing the cities, municipalities, and provinces with the necessary support that will help them develop or elevate tourism in their area, and extending proper attention to lesser-known tourism destinations.

The DOT launched the flagship program called the Philippine Experience Programs: Culture, Heritage, and Arts Caravan which emphasizes the country’s diverse cultural heritage and rich artistic resources and equalizes tourism opportunities. The DOT so far launched the PEP in four regions: Davao, CALABARZON, Bicol, and Western Visayas regions.

In fully tapping into the domestic tourism market, which continues to be a strong driver of the country’s tourism industry, the DOT also continues to organize major domestic expos such as the Philippine Travel Exchange (PHITEX), as well as regional fairs seeking to facilitate regional tourism exchange, including the second North Luzon Travel Expo (NLTE), Central Philippines Tourism Expo, and Mindanao Tourism Expos.

In a bid to further showcase Mindanao’s readiness for tourism, the DOT has led several initiatives to build domestic and international visitors’ confidence in the region and raise awareness of the stable security situation in the region.

The DOT has entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Department of National Defense (DND) to strengthen inter-agency partnership by ensuring that peace, security, and order are prioritized in tourism development programs.

Through its Tourist Oriented Police for Community Order and Protection (TOPCOP), the DOT continues to assure the safety and security of tourists training 7,910 officers on the program.

For the maiden edition of the PEP, the DOT brought members of the diplomatic corps and tourism stakeholders on a three-day immersive experience in the Davao region and just last month, it hosted the Bismillah: An Evening of Faith, Love, and the Flavors of Mindanao event to promote the region’s richness in gastronomic offerings.

As it continues to deliver on its mandate on tourism promotions, the Department has also taken strides in diversifying the country’s tourism product portfolio to go beyond the already established tourism products including sun and beach, nature-based, and dive tourism.

Towards this direction, the DOT launched several inaugural events including the Philippine Dive Tourism Dive Dialogue (PTDD), the Philippine Tourism Pride Summit, the Philippine Golf Tourism Summit, and the Philippine Creative Tourism Congress.

Working with the country’s strength as an archipelagic nation and allure as a cruise destination, the DOT has also fortified its efforts to further develop cruise tourism in the country and cater to more market segments, leading several cruise welcome receptions and dialogues with stakeholders this year. Secretary Frasco shared that as of October, cruise calls to the Philippines have tallied 125.  ​

Enhanced tourist convenience through innovation 

In further enhancing the overall tourism experience and allowing the country to be at par with its ASEAN neighbors in terms of tourist convenience, the DOT has been active in pursuing digitalization projects and partnerships that will inure to the benefit of the tourism industry.

The DOT has partnered with the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) in pursuing the enhancement of internet connectivity in 94 tourism destinations.

The DOT has also taken an active role as far as visa reforms are concerned, initiating upon the directive of the President the high-level convergence meeting with other national government agencies such as the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), DICT, Department of Justice (DoJ), and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to take up visa concerns and reforms to address remaining bottlenecks in the entry processes for travelers, particularly the issuance of electronic visas.

This year, the DOT also launched the Philippines’ first centralized and multi-platform Tourist Assistance Call Center which shall serve as the hotline and one-stop shop for tourism- and travel-related information, coupled with the Travel Philippines App which reaped 31,071 downloads from September 25 for December 7 alone.

Marking another significant leap in Philippine tourism, the DOT launched the country’s first-ever Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tours (HOHO) in the cities of Makati and Manila that offers a convenient option for tourists to book their tours with digital tools including a dedicated website, a reloadable EMV-capable card, and a mobile app for booking tours, making cashless payments, GPS networked-bus arrival monitoring and video guides, as well as information on hotels, food, and tourism merchants.

Bringing the best of Philippine tourism to the world 

The year 2023 also proved to be a historic one for The Philippines as it was elected Vice President for East Asia and the Pacific of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) General Assembly, a prestigious global position last held by the country more than two decades ago.

Represented by Secretary Frasco, The Philippines shared the stage with global tourism leaders and influencers from some 150 countries at the 25th UNWTO General Assembly at Samarkand Congress Center in Uzbekistan. In addition, the Philippines was also elected as Chair of the Commission for East Asia and the Pacific.

As chair, the country is set to host the Joint Commission Meeting of the Commission for East Asia and the Pacific, and the Commission for South Asia in Cebu next year.

In sustaining international interest in the Philippines as a top-of-mind destination, the DOT through its marketing and promotions arm, the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) Philippines, led the country’s successful participation in the biggest key travel and tourism expos abroad, as well as lead domestic promotions events.

Just this year, the DOT, together with the TPB, has generated PHP 6.27 billion in total sales leads.

The concerted efforts of the DOT and stakeholders to elevate the standing of Philippine tourism has borne fruit, as demonstrated by the accolades that the country has reaped from prestigious travel and tourism authorities and publications for 2023 alone, among which are four major awards at the World Travel Awards (WTA) 2023 held recently in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The successfully defended its 2022 titles as the World’s Leading Dive Destination and World’s Leading Beach Destination and, for the first time, bagging the World’s Leading City Destination for Manila and the Global Tourism Resilience Award, being one of only five countries and destinations in the world to receive the inaugural 2023 WTA citation.

“Being awarded for tourism resilience is a reflection of the hard work that has been done by government, in partnership with the private sector, to ensure that the losses that have ensued as a result of the pandemic could be addressed, and at the same time that we elevate the status of Philippine tourism in the ASEAN and in the world,” Secretary Frasco said.

Whole-of-nation approach to continue 

According to the DOT chief, these milestones for Philippine tourism are the fruits of the concerted efforts of tourism stakeholders, as well as partners from the government and the private sector. She also shared that in addition to continuing its flagship programs, 2024 will see the establishment of additional 18 Tourist Rest Areas all over the country, as well as exploration of new cruise destinations, and new areas for the Philippines Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours.

Other new initiatives will include the construction of Tourist Emergency Centers (TECS), and the roll out of the Disaster Risk Reduction Management (DRRM) Operations Manual​ for Philippine tourism.

“Notwithstanding the fact that the Philippines barely contributes to climate-related disasters in terms of pollution in comparison with other nations, the sad thing is that our country is one of the most vulnerable to climate change. I saw this for myself when I was Mayor of Liloan in Cebu that had been ravaged by Super typhoon Odette that saw nearly thirty thousand of my constituents lose their homes, lose their livelihood, their fishing boats, and the like. And so, one of the efforts that we have made under the Department of Tourism under the President’s administration is to have a proper framework for disaster response for our DOT Central Office, our regional offices, in partnership with our tourism destinations across the country,” she explained.

Frasco also shared that the effort to attract more tourism investments will continue especially in the aspects of hotel and accommodations, marine transportation, as well as the development of Tourism Enterprise Zones.

 7.7 million international arrivals eyed for 2024 

Secretary Frasco shared the baseline target of 7.7 million international visitor arrivals next year.

“I understand that this is not yet our pre-pandemic numbers of 2019 at over 8.2 million international arrivals, but what I can assure you is that we will push as hard as we can and fully activate our convergences with other government agencies in order to breach this target and bring us closer to pre-pandemic numbers even as we grapple with many forces beyond our control, globally, and locally,” Secretary Frasco said.

In a media opportunity, the DOT chief expressed her gratitude to all the domestic and foreign tourists who have shown love to the Philippines for 2023.

“The world has loved thE Philippines in 2023, and we are very grateful to our friends from all over the world who have affirmed na ‘yung Pilipinas po ay nagpapatuloy bilang World’s Leading Beach and Dive Destination, Asia’s Best Cruise Destination, pati na rin po ‘yung isa ang Pilipinas among five countries in the world awarded as a Global Tourism Resilience awardee, na nagpapakita na yung transformation na nais ng ating Presidente ay nangyayari na po, at ‘yung turismo ay nagbibigay ng 5.35 million employment sa ating mga kababayan. Nagpapasalamat din po ako sa ating fellow Filipinos who have continued to support not just international tourism but also domestic tourism. We have pushed hard to continue to promote the country to the rest of the world, even as we also develop our emerging destinations all over the country,” Secretary Frasco enthused.



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