The European Union (EU) and the Philippines are creating new channels to share respective interests in trade and culture through travel. Described as “two-way tourism,” the undertaking was the main focus of Europe Day on May 9 at the Shangri-La Hotel in Makati City.
EU Ambassador to the Philippines Guy Ledoux led a roster of foreign diplomats and local government officials in an evening of valuable discussions that also highlighted the many developments between EU member nations and the country.
“One of the major achievements in EU-PH relations has been beneficial to Filipino aircraft carriers. In July last year, we announced the lifting of the air ban for Philippine Airlines, and just last month for Cebu Pacific,” cited Ledoux in his welcome remarks.
Accordingly, direct air links to key cities in Europe from Manila are a big boost in tourism for both ends, thus nurturing “people to people” relations as well. Playing an active role in maximizing this opportunity are the Delegation of the European and the Philippine government’s Department of Tourism (DOT) with stronger tourism campaigns.
The DOT aims to generate 500,000 European tourist arrivals this year with its ongoing advertising campaigns and promotional events in EU member nations. This very strategy was utilized in 2013, which effectively showed a significant rise in tourist arrivals.
“Last year, the number of European tourists to the Philippines increased by 8 percent, reaching 376,000 visitors. Europe is the fifth largest market for the Philippines in tourism, with a significant growth potential,” Ledoux said.
With this, the EU and the Philippines also strive to deepen business relations via “tourism products” that will generate more jobs, as well as trade and investment opportunities on both sides.
“We strongly believe that the Philippines and Europe have very strong tourism products—there’s a lot to sell. It’s not just about promoting Europe; it’s about promoting two-way tourism, which we think is a win-win situation.
“European businessmen are investing in tourism in the Philippines and there are more Filipinos traveling to Europe. The key is to educate Europeans about what you have in this country, as well as letting Filipinos experience what we have in Europe,” Julian Vassalo, political counselor of the Delegation of the European Union to the Philippines told The Manila Times.
He also cited a signed Framework Agreement on Partnership and Cooperation in 2012 between the EU and the Philippines, which includes an article on tourism. This covers the exchange of information and tourism best practices; collaborations on developing sustainable tourism and eco-tourism; technical assistance; improved training in the tourism industry; and development of new technologies.
In the last two years, the agreement has proven advantageous to the Philippines, with the EU becoming its fourth largest trading partner. The EU is also the country’s largest investment partner with 30 percent of foreign direct investment stock.
However, there are still several challenges to hurdle before a smoother “two-way tourism” flow can take place. The biggest problem identified by the EU in the Philippines is the lack of efficient infrastructure for tourists.
As a collective concern, Ledoux, along with Austrian Ambassador to the Philippines Josef Mullner, and political counselor Vassalo also told The Manila Times that while the EU recognizes “good governance and steady economic growth” as the major strengths of the Philippines today, it still has a long way to go in becoming a major tourist destination.
“I think there is a recognition that certain infrastructure—whether it be roads, airports—need to be addressed. I was in Banawe and Sagada a few days ago. These places are truly extraordinary and world class yet accessibility is is very difficult,” Vassalo related.
The Austrian ambassador for his part expressed, “The EU is very interested in helping improve infrastructure in the Philippines. We have businesses in the pipeline that we are currently negotiating and we hope for a positive outcome.”