By Justine Irish D. Tabile, Reporter
THE Philippines must focus on infrastructure to maximize its tourism potential and restore foreign tourism to pre-pandemic levels, analysts said.
“More infrastructure spending and development is needed to further boost the capacity of the country’s various airports and gateways to accommodate more foreign tourists and help bring back the country’s foreign tourism numbers and revenue (in line with) other ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries,” Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. Chief Economist Michael L. Ricafort said in a Viber message.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) recently reported that international tourism in the first half, as measured by arrivals, was 84% of pre-pandemic levels. However, in Asia and the Pacific, the recovery was only 61%.
“International tourism is experiencing a rapid recovery in Asia and the Pacific where arrivals climbed to 61% of pre-pandemic levels this period after the reopening of many destinations and source markets earlier this year,” UNWTO said.
In the Philippines, the Department of Tourism reported 3.88 million visitor arrivals as of Sept. 19, accounting for 80.8% of the 4.8 million target for the year. In 2019, visitor arrivals totaled 8.25 million.
“Philippine tourism is as resilient as other destinations but unique in such a way that ours is driven mostly by domestic tourism, comprising approximately 80% of receipts,” according to John Paolo R. Rivera, OIC executive director of the Asian Institute of Management’s Dr. Andrew L. Tan Center for Tourism.
“The Philippines is working its way to become a hub. This is not done overnight. Until adequate infrastructure both soft and hard are in place, only then we will be able to fully harness tourism potentials of the Philippines not confined to the mainstream local destinations,” he said in a Viber message.
According to the UNWTO, “the reopening of China and other Asian markets and destinations is expected to continue boosting travel both within the region and to other parts of the world.”
On Aug. 10, China announced the resumption of outbound group tour services to a third batch of 78 countries. It has so far expanded to 138 in August from 60 in April.
“However, the recovery of international travel to and from China has been hampered by still limited flight connectivity and visa backlogs,” UNWTO said.
Mr. Rivera said that tourism from China is a “double-edged sword,” as it may also be a threat to sustainability.
“It is good for arrival figures and receipts but may be a threat to sustainability given the volume of tourists coming from China. It’s a matter of balancing sustainability pillars as far as demand from China is concerned,” he said.
China Banking Corp. Chief Economist Domini S. Velasquez said the Philippine services sector is expected to continue benefiting from a jumpstart in tourism after the pandemic.
“However, tourist arrivals are still below pre-pandemic levels, compounded by the slow arrival of visitors from China,” Ms. Velasquez said.
“If you recall, before the pandemic, Chinese tourists were second to Koreans. As China reduces restrictions to travel, we expect the Philippines to also benefit, especially the tourism industry,” she added.