On the back of encouraging arrival numbers, Philippine officials are expanding their outreach through marketing and promotional campaigns abroad, including incentive schemes, roadshows, new routes and special tours. Having exceeded their goal of 6.5m foreign arrivals in 2017 by over 100,000, the Department of Tourism (DOT) has targeted attracting 7.4m arrivals in 2018, and as many as 12m by 2022 – accompanied by P473bn ($9.3bn) in revenues, alongside the P2.1trn ($41.5bn) the DOT expects to see from domestic tourism. This will require a sustained push for publicity and awareness within key growth markets, not least among balikbayans (Filipinos living abroad).
One idea is to leverage the Philippine diaspora, a relatively low-cost scheme that appears to be bearing fruit. Starting in October 2017, the DOT has launched a promotional campaign called “Bring Home a Friend” that offers a shot at prizes to Filipino expats who invite a friend to their homeland. Among the winnable items are a Toyota Vios, a gift certificate for P200,000 ($4000), and a condo in Manila worth P7m ($138,000). The move aims to tap the estimated 10m Filipino citizens living overseas. The idea is that the scheme will be able to pay its way and then some, since average receipts per foreign arrival stand at around $984, according to the UN.
One market of focus is China, which in 2017 overtook the US as the second-largest source market after South Korea with nearly 1m arrivals, up 43.3% on the previous year. In 2018 the DOT hopes to receive 1.5m-2m Chinese arrivals. To this end, in early 2018 the government announced new flight routes between the two countries, including direct flights from Xiamen to Palawan in February and from Tiajin to Puerto Princesa also in time for the Chinese New Year that same month. Similar efforts are being made to increase maritime arrivals. In 2017 the vessels SuperStar Virgo and Dream Cruise’s World Dream added the Philippines to their port calls in 2017, while three others – Costa Cruise’s Atlantis and the Royal Carribean’s Voyager and Ovation vessels – were set to do the same in 2018. The authorities hope to see stops added in ports outside Manila as well, such as Puerto Princesa and Davao, to expand the Philippines’ appeal as a destination to Chinese cruisers. Ease of entry should help: in August 2017 authorities granted visa-on-arrival eligibility to Chinese citizens and visa-free entry to those with existing visas for the US, Europe’s Schengen area, Canada, Australia or Japan (see analysis). Especially popular among Chinese visitors are the island destinations of Boracay, Cebu and Bohol, a 2017 DOT survey revealed.
A further effort centres on hosting international events capable of drawing foreign visitors. One such event, the Miss Universe beauty pageant, was held in January 2017 in Manila. While a bid to host it again in 2018 was withdrawn in June 2017 to clear space for the ASEAN Summit, taking place in November that year, the DOT arranged for 12 of the pageant’s previous winners and candidates to tour the country in December, generating publicity during their visits to Manila, Batanes, Bohol and Camiguin.
The 31st ASEAN Summit in Manila in November 2017, which included 15 high-profile meetings for top officials who were celebrating the bloc’s 50th anniversary, was another highlight on the year’s event calendar. Ronald Go, president of Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said in late 2017 he expected the event to spur “more investment, more tourists [and] more development” in the subsequent months. Other events that drew crowds in 2017 were the Madrid Fusion Manila international food congress in April, which the capital will host again in 2018; the World Street Food Congress in June; and the UN World Tourism Organisation’s International Conference on Tourism Statistics, also in June. The DOT sees sports events as a growth area in 2018, according to a statement made early in the year. On the calendar are the 2018 Worlds Strongest Man contest in May and the Century Tuna Ironman competition in June.