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RP tourism up 1.5%

RP tourism up 1.5%
By Tonette Orejas
Central Luzon Desk
Philippine Star
First Posted 13:28:00 02/07/2009

Filed Under: Tourism, World Financial Crisis
CANDABA, Pampanga, Philippines -- A gold medal. That's what the 3.14 million tourist arrivals in 2008 meant for the Philippines, an official of the Department of Tourism said here on Thursday.

Birdwatch
Candaba Mayor Gerry Pelayo (purple shirt)
with DOT Usec Eduardo Jarque (in beige shirt)

"That's a 1.5-percent increase over 2007. It is the smallest ever for the last three or four years. But when the whole world is having negative and some lucky ones have zero growth, 1.5 [percent growth] is a gold medal," said Eduardo Jarque, tourism undersecretary for marketing. "It's an achievement we are very proud of."

Statistics on the 3.14 million tourists, topped by South Koreans and Americans, were obtained through their disembarkation cards in airports and seaports, he said. The rise in tourist arrivals was not due to the DOT alone.

"We have fantastic members of the travel trade, hotel operators, airlines that offer promo rates. We have offered various destinations, joined many travel fairs. Also, local governments are active [in the promotion of tourism in places] like Candaba," Jarque said.

Asked if the domestic tourism industry would register consistent growth, he said, "No. no. Everybody says it is expected for a rebound. Give it two years. [The Philippines] is a good place to be in because our place is stable, the industry is stable. It is expected to grow as we offer more and more products more than ever before."

The latest come-on among international tourists is bird watching.

The first volume of the book "Bird Watching in the Philippines," prepared by the DOT and the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, has been promoting St. Paul National Park and Rasa Island in Palawan, Mt. Palay-Palay in Cavite, the coastal lagoon in Parañaque City, Subic Bay in Zambales, Balanga wetlands in Bataan, Candaba in Pampanga, Hundred Islands and Bani wetlands in Pangasinan, Olango Island and Alcoy in Cebu and the Philippine Eagle Center in Davao City.

Launched in London last year, the bird watching program will take a second promotional leg there this year.

According to Jarque, the economic crisis also provides opportunities for investors to prepare for better times.

For instance, a Korean company opened the Imperial Hotel in Cebu City last Friday. The Shangri-la on Boracay Island is due to open in April.

"With more people working to promote and market Philippine tourism and with more products, the 1.5-percent [growth] should really go up and when the [economy] bounces, we will be more than ready," Jarque said.

Cesar Cruz, president of the Philippine Tour Operators Association, said that given the history of tourism in the country, the last three years showed "unprecedented growth," especially when tourist arrivals surpassed the two-million mark in 2006.

For Cruz, the 1.5-percent growth in 2008 was "a big achievement especially given the global crisis." Last year's growth was "difficult to believe" but it happened because of aggressive promotion, marketing and product development, he said.