• France upbeat on Philippine tourism

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    French Ambassador to the Philippines Gilles Garachon meets with the editors of The Manila Times for a roundtable discussion on Franco-Philippines affairs . PHOTO BY EDWIN MULI

    ALTHOUGH SERVING for just a short period of time in the country, French Ambassador to the Philippines Gilles Garachon said France has a nice impression about the country, which could unlock potentials for the growth of its tourism industry.

    “In 1992, as a tourist, I went to Boracay. That was my first encounter with the Philippines,” said Garachon in a roundtable discussion with The Manila Times on Thursday.

    Garachon said that tourism in the Philippines has a lot to boast about, and mentioned the country’s nice waters, beautiful beaches, great underground waters sites, and nice historical sites like Vigan City in Ilocos Sur province and the Banaue Rice Terraces, among others. He said that his actual impressions of the Philippines were “not the same reading the Internet post.”

    He also said that the country offers good food.

    Added to that, Garachon said Filipinos can communicate easily, and are known for being hospitable and kind-hearted, which are traits that tourists are looking for.

    On the cultural side, he said, “The Philippines has very much a rich culture and we have to work more in the field of preserving it.”

    The “Mabuhay!” greeting, Garachon added, is the most “notable greeting” Filipinos are known for that touches the hearts of tourists.

    Garachon even said the French government is hosting a grand exhibit entitled, “Philippines: An Archipelago of Exchanges [Philippines: Archipel des Exchanges]” at the Quai Branly Museum (Musee du Quai Branly) in Paris, France. The exhibit features traditional Philippine indigenous arts. This is the first major exhibit to feature the Philippines in France in the last 20 years. The exhibit started on April 9 and will last until July 14. Present at the inauguration of the exhibit was French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who visited the country last year. Representing the country in the opening of the exhibit was Vice President Jejomar Binay.

    The ambassador said the exhibit is a “good accomplishment of the Philippine government” and develops good “momentum of relation” between France and the country.

    Constraints to more visitors
    Meanwhile, the Ambassador also mentioned some problems why European tourists are not coming to visit the country. In April 2010, the European Commission decided to impose a ban on Philippine carriers including national flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Air Inc. from traveling to European countries, because the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippine (CAAP) failed to reform the country’s civil aviation system.

    Also, the findings of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) downgraded the safety rating of the Philippines in 2008 to category 2 from category 1.Category 2 indicates that the Federal Aviation Authority of the United States had assessed that the Philippines’ civil aviation authority had failed to comply with ICAO safety standards for the oversight of air carrier operations. While in category 2, Philippine air carriers are permitted to continue current operations to the US under heightened FAA surveillance.

    The French Ambassador said that he hopes that the ban will be lifted soon.

    Because of the restrictions caused by the situation, European tourists cannot enter the Philippines directly.

    Garachon said that before a European tourist can enter the Philippines, he or she has to go through many trips, since there is no direct flight from Europe to Manila.

    But despite the ban, Garachon said, “The Philippines has a very promising, positive attitude and huge potential in tourism.”

    He added that the potential of the country’s tourism is “good topic to work on” by the government.

    Usually, Europeans go to Thailand, Bali in Indonesia, then to the Philippines.

    Garachon said that 30,000 French tourists visited the country last year. Meanwhile, the French community in the Philippines number about 5,000 who are mostly in Metro Manila and Cebu City.

    Koreans remain the top visitors of the country with 406,595 arrivals, followed by the United States with 246,011 visitors; Japanese ranked third with 148,950 visitors and the Chinese tourists remain the fourth with 132,307 visitors.

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