The Philippines is likely to achieve its original target of 10 million tourist arrivals by 2020 if the tourism sector bottlenecks such as infrastructure constraints, regional airports improvements, the need for more hotel rooms, and the upgrade of local products are addressed.
International Monetary Fund (IMF) Resident Representative Shanaka Jayanath Peiris noted in particular the need for regional connectivity and more hotel rooms.
He made the statement during a panel discussion at the 3rd Manila Times Business Forum on Tuesday.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) targeted 10 million visitors for 2015, but the numbers were adjusted to 5.5 million as the goal was deemed “too ambitious.”
The country logged 5.36 million visitors in 2015, which generated $5 billion in tourism revenues. 2015 was already a record year for the industry in terms of arrivals and revenues, compared with 4.83 million in arrivals and $4.8 billion in revenues in 2014.
Comparatively, Thailand recorded 29.88 million visitors in 2015, generating 2.21 trillion baht or more than $60 billion in tourism revenues. Malaysia recorded 27.44 million arrivals in 2014, with matching revenues of 72 billion Malaysian ringgit or $17.76 billion in revenues. Malaysia’s 2015 figures were not yet available.
“The Philippines is underperforming compared to regional neighbors like Thailand and Malaysia. But it could easily double in five years . . . The country should have an increase if we address the airports, liberalize service sectors,” Peiris said.
“It is not easy to fly in the islands, even Palawan [which is a world renowned tourist spot]. Regional airports improvements would be a very important aspect. That would be very helpful if there are flights from Hong Kong, Thailand or China direct to these regional airports. It will be a big plus,” he added.
Then there the issues in logistics and infrastructure that need to be addressed, Peiris noted, saying that a lot of areas in the provinces still lack proper roads, bridges and other transportation modes which impede connectivity and faster journey.
Peiris cited government’s effort to pursue the regional airports projects under the public-private partnership (PPP) scheme, as well as private sector investments in provincial tourism hubs and resorts to contribute to the growth of the sector in the long run.
“If we continue the infrastructure investments, regulation of airlines and airports, and hotel rooms coming in the future, we can see an increase if we can [achieve]that environment,” the IMF official said.
On the output side, Peiris said local production can benefit from the current China rebalancing which can boost tourism.
“The China rebalancing will continue to help local consumption. It is a strong sector. The product is there. If we can increase capacity and come up with very good products, there’s no reason that the Philippines will not go to the level of Thailand and Malaysia,” Peiris said.
The Philippines targets 6 million tourist arrivals in 2016 and P300 billion or $5 billion in revenues.
Thailand aims for 32 million visitors this year over $60 billion in revenues, while Malaysia expects to hit 30.5 million tourists and $24.5 billion in revenues.
Korea was the largest source of tourism arrivals for the Philippines last year, capturing a fourth of total tourist arrivals. This was followed by the US at 14.5 percent and Japan at 9.6 percent.