Going by the results of a recent study conducted by a credit card company, the Philippines should be in a good position to draw more Asian tourists. The Visa Affluent Study 2015 showed that well-heeled Asian tourists’ most favored destinations are pristine beaches, followed by popular or large shopping areas and then landmarks.
The Philippines has all of those in abundance, with the country’s beaches world class and shopping malls ubiquitous in urban centers. Where the country falls short is in the other factor that draws the well-heeled traveler: upscale accommodations. Sure, there are exclusive island resorts and five-star hotels, but these are not enough, even in several of the country’s top travel destinations.
Investors, diplomats and members of the travel industry have pointed out for years that the country must invest much more in tourism infrastructure to complement its numerous natural attractions. The same problems that have made the country a regional laggard in attracting foreign direct investment, however, have also discouraged more private investments in tourism infrastructure. Government policies and actions have also not helped, with airline taxes and fees combined with air safety issues ending direct flights to Europe, a major source of affluent travelers.
The direct flights have started to resume, and a tourism marketing campaign has registered some success, although the 10-million visitor target by 2016 now seems unattainable. The country has a lot of catching up to do with its neighbors notably Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. Vietnam is pulling ahead and Cambodia may soon overtake the Philippines in terms of tourist arrivals.
As the Visa Affluent Study showed, the Philippines has a lot of potential to pull in more visitors and boost tourism receipts. Marketing alone will not do it, especially since the country’s tourism promotion budget pales when compared with those of its neighbors. When the marketing works, there should be adequate tourism infrastructure to match the warm welcome given by Filipinos to visitors.
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