THE Department of Tourism (DOT) will be improving its marketing and promotions strategy to boost visitor arrivals from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
DOT Spokesman and Undersecretary for Tourism Development Planing Benito C. Bengzon Jr. made this disclosure at a roundtable with media last Friday. He said the agency would “deliberately chase short-haul markets,” such as Asean, as per recommendation of industry stakeholders during a meeting with them on June 26 at the Philippine International Convention Center.
Although arrivals from the Asean grew by 31 percent to 530,321 in 2018, the market comprises only 7.4 percent of total visitor arrivals then at 7.17 million. Last year’s total inbound tourists, he added, were revised to reflect an earlier uncaptured 30,000 plus arrivals data gathered from the Bureau of Immigration arrival/departure cards. This is a slight increase from the earlier announced 7.13 million arrivals last year.
In the first four months of 2019, arrivals from Asean dipped by 4.65 percent to 172,878, with most countries showing declines. The only Asean markets which showed improvement in arrivals from January to April were: Cambodia at 1,353 (up 5.54 percent); Myanmar at 3,853 (up 23.41 percent); and Vietnam at 19,869 (up 18.77 percent).
Bengzon said “part of the reason” for the drop in Singapore tourists is the lack of a tourism market representative. Arrivals from Singapore fell by 14.24 percent to 51,361 from January to April.
In the last survey of foreign tourists commissioned by the DOT (Global Survey on Foreign Tourists: Perception of the Philippines and the Branding Campaign “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” 2016) by Nielsen Inc., most Asians don’t consider the Philippines as a vacation destination despite its proximity because they don’t see it as unique, especially when compared to their respective countries. (See, “Foreigners list ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ in PHL—Tourism poll,” in the BusinessMirror, February 18, 2019.)
Also, negative perceptions about the country are prevalent (e.g., unsafe, dirty, traffic, poor roads, lack of halal food, long journey to destination, “chaotic” airport, corruption, terrorism, etc.) and outweigh the positives (e.g., beach, cheap, rich history, natural attractions, etc.).
The DOT official averred though that the main interests of our Asean neighbors in the Philippines are “shopping and entertainment.” He told of a recent familiarization tour DOT hosted for travel agents from Cambodia, and “they were all awed by our malls.”
For Malaysia and Singapore, Bengzon said “heavier advertising” will be required to boost arrivals from both markets. He noted this would include “a slow but steady shift toward digital platforms, especially for the highly wired markets like Singapore,” and continue with “more familiarization tours to newer destinations that offer newer products, because we have to diversify.”
The large expatriate community and young couples have been identified as priority markets in Singapore and, thus, DOT will need to find out what exactly what they are looking for in the Philippines. “So we’re going to study that,” he said.
As for Malaysia, Bengzon noted more products need to be developed “in terms of halal-friendly establishments.” The Department of Trade and Industry is pushing for the development of more halal-friendly products, and is seeking to identify halal-friendly hotels with the Philippines hosting of the Southeast Asian Games from November 30 to December 11.
Tourists from Malaysia slipped 0.28 percent to 48,722, data from the DOT showed.
He emphasized the importance of routes development to attract more Asean tourists, citing the return of the Davao-Manado flights which connect the Philippines to North Sulawesi, Indonesia. “Route development continues to play a pivotal role in tourism development,” he said.
Bengzon noted there were an additional 1.6 million seats into the Philippines, both scheduled and nonscheduled/charter flights.