Department of Tourism Secretary Frasco optimistic on exceeding industry targets for 2023
Ahead of the 2023 State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco on (July 23) bared the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) key contributions to the 10-point agenda for economic renewal and growth under the current administration, and the strides made towards the country’s transformation into a tourism powerhouse in Asia.
According to Frasco, the President’s pronouncements that prioritized tourism served as an impetus to the DOT’s comprehensive plan to bring sustainable and inclusive development across the sectors of the industry and to the farthest parts of the country, and make the essential pivot to highlight the strength of the Filipino culture, heritage, and identity in tourism promotions.
“We thank our President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. for identifying tourism as a priority, which provided the impetus for the Department of Tourism’s aggressive efforts to reintroduce the Philippines on the strength of its greatest assets, and to improve the essential pillars of tourism development, laid down in the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) 2023 – 2028 crafted and approved under his administration,” remarked Secretary Frasco.
Philippine tourism resurgence seen in 2022
Foremost on the country’s tourism milestones is its recovering numbers. From February last year, upon reopening its border to all types of travelers, up until December, the Philippines welcomed 2.65 million international tourist arrivals, surpassing the 1.7 million year-end projections by nearly one million additional visitors. Of this number, 1.8 million or 69.32 percent arrived between July 1 to December 31.
Last year, domestic tourism also proved its pivotal role in the post-pandemic resurgence of Philippine tourism. The country recorded over 102 million domestic trips in 2022, posting a 176.18 percent increase from the 37.28 million domestic trips in 2021.
As reported by the Philippine Statistics Authority in the 2022 Philippine Tourism Satellite Accounts (PTSA), internal tourism expenditure last year reached Php 1.87 trillion, a 131.2 percent increase from Php 810.20 billion in 2021. Internal tourism expenditure combines domestic tourism expenditure of resident visitors within the country either as part of their domestic or international travel, and inbound tourism expenditure of non-resident visitors including foreign nationals or Filipinos permanently residing abroad. Domestic tourism expenditure took the lion’s share with Php 1.50 trillion, while inbound tourism expenditure totaled Php 368.67 billion.
Meanwhile, the Tourism Direct Gross Value Added (TDGVA) share of the sector to the Philippine economy as measured by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) last year was estimated at 6.2 percent and valued at Php 1.38 trillion, 36.9 percent higher compared with the Php 1.00 trillion in 2021.
As of July 21, 2023, the DOT has recorded 3, 017, 224 foreign visitor arrivals, less than 1.8 million short of its 4.8 million targets for the entire year.
Marcos administration gives tourism industry a headstart towards post-pandemic recovery
To sustain the momentum for the country’s tourism recovery, the DOT, with Secretary Frasco at its helm, actively pushed for the liberalization of COVID-19 protocols in 2022, including the removal of the COVID-19 test requirements and mask-wearing mandate to allow the country to be at par with its ASEAN neighbors and to send the strong message across that the country is ready to welcome visitors.
The DOT also closely worked with other national government agencies including the Department of Health and the Bureau of Quarantine in replacing the One Health Pass (OHP) with the enhanced eArrival card (now e-Travel) system to provide a more convenient entry for travelers. The move came after the DOT’s proposal to remove the OHP amid complaints from inbound travelers to the Philippines, and after the Department benchmarked on more convenient arrival protocols in other ASEAN countries including Singapore.
The National Tourism Development Plan
In May of this year, President Marcos Jr. approved the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) 2023 to 2028 submitted by the DOT under the leadership of Secretary Frasco that laid down the seven objectives of the Department focusing on the essential pillars of development towards a sustainable, innovative, inclusive, and globally competitive tourism industry.
The NTDP encapsulates seven strategic goals which include improvement of tourism infrastructure and accessibility; cohesive and comprehensive digitalization and connectivity; enhancement of overall tourist experience; equalization of tourism product development and promotion; diversification of the tourism portfolio through multidimensional tourism; maximization of domestic and international tourism; and strengthening tourism governance through close collaboration with national and local government units and stakeholders.
Spurring digitalization and infrastructure development
Aligning with the priorities of the Marcos administration, the DOT placed on top of its agenda infrastructure and digitalization initiatives that would boost the connectivity of tourism destinations and improve traveler convenience.
Through its infrastructure arm, the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), the DOT broke ground on Tourist Rest Areas (TRAs) in ten strategic locations nationwide. These TRAs come equipped with features that will come in handy for travelers including clean restrooms, shower area, lounge area, pasalubong or souvenir center, and charging station.
Likewise, through its partnership with the Department of Transportation (DOTr), the DOT is also working on bringing improvements to the country’s gateways, starting with the NAIA Terminal 2, Cebu City Pier One, and the Davao International Airport. Interior, decor, and furniture enhancements are now seen and felt in NAIA Terminal 2, with the enhancements in the other pilot areas nearing completion.
On the aspect of improving roads, international airports, and seaports, the DOT also collaborated with the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), primarily on enhancing and continuing projects under the existing Tourism Road Infrastructure Program (TRIP) partnership between the two agencies, as well as the exploration and pursuit of new infrastructure projects, with at least Php 16 Billion invested in tourism roads for 2023.
Entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), the DOT announced that internet connectivity in 94 tourist destinations will be improved, with 46 destinations already powered up. The Department is also set to launch a Tourist Lifecycle App with the Tourism Promotions Board that will cater to domestic and foreign tourists.
Encouraging travel to the Philippines
To encourage travel, the DOT, with Secretary Frasco at its helm, pushed for the liberalization of COVID-19 protocols and the improvement of the eArrival card and e-Travel system to allow the Philippines to be at par with its ASEAN neighbors and to fully open up the country to tourism.
To encourage travel into the country and boost visitor numbers, the Department actively engaged in several discussions with airlines and the Department of Transportation (DOTr) to fully maximize the country’s air gateways, resume discontinued flights, and open up new routes.
Since the start of the Marcos administration, routes such as Cebu to Baguio, Cebu to Jeju, Manila to Perth, and Cebu to Cotabato have opened. Further, secondary gateways like the Clark International Airport will increase its flights, from 48 to 98 international flights, and 69 to 23 local flights.
As the DOT continues its dialogue with its partners in the aviation sector to jumpstart air routes and boost tourism activity, it is also actively taking steps towards making the country more attractive for cruise tourism.
The Philippines expects a total of 121 cruise calls for the entire 2023, the DOT reports as of July 1. This is higher compared to the 102 cruise calls in 2019. Of the 121 cruise calls for 2023, 60 have already arrived to the country while 61 are scheduled to make port calls from October onwards. Through its Cruise Tourism Program, the DOT led welcome reception programs for guests of the Silver Spirit, Silver Shadow, and ultra-luxury cruise ship Seaborn Encore.
Reintroducing the Philippines to the world
The Department also aggressively promoted Philippine tourism by mounting important local expos and participating in key international expos abroad.
Locally, the DOT led the mounting of the successful Philippine Travel Exchange (PHITEX) with the Tourism Promotions Board, and the first-ever North Luzon Travel Fair in Clark, Mindanao Tourism Expo in Davao City, and Central Philippines Tourism Expo in Iloilo to boost regional travel exchange.
The DOT and its marketing and promotion arm, the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) Philippines, led the country’s comeback to important international expos including the Internationale Tourismus-Börse (ITB) 2023 Convention in Germany last March 2023, and the ASEAN Tourism Forum Travel Exchange in Indonesia last February 2023. Participation in key expos abroad allowed the Philippines to successfully generate over three billion in estimated sales leads.
“Through the enhanced tourism branding campaign, ‘Love The Philippines’, the Department of Tourism will continue to highlight our tourism offerings—our diverse culture, gastronomy, the unparalleled beauty of our destinations, and most especially, the warmth of our people. There is a plethora of reasons to love The Philippines and we are determined to ensure that the world is reminded of what we can offer”, enthused the tourism chief.
Forging meaningful partnerships on the local, regional, and national level
Drawing from her extensive experience as a multi-awarded local chief executive, Secretary Frasco initiated listening tours, convergence meetings, and partnerships with the DOT’s public and private sector stakeholders.
Acting on the President’s directive, the DOT and other national government agencies led a high-level meeting to tackle electronic visa reforms specifically for Chinese and Indian markets.
In promoting the Mindanao region as a peaceful and viable tourism destination, the Department also entered into an agreement with the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
Together with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the DOT led the Philippine Tourism Job Fair series which has more than 21,000 tourism jobs nationwide.
In cooperation with the private sector and local government units, the DOT also launched the Bisita, Be My Guest (BBMG) incentive program, and the first-ever Hop-On Hop-Off bus tours in the Philippines, starting with Makati and Manila, providing an innovative and convenient way to travel through key cities.
Setting the stage for the Philippines
On the aspect of strengthening international tourism relations and allowing Philippine tourism to take a primary standing in the ASEAN and globally, Secretary Frasco successfully led delegations to key international tourism organization meets, and bilateral meetings with tourism counterparts to facilitate travel exchange and partnerships in the areas of training, research and development, investments, flights, jobs, joint promotions, among others.
Just recently, in June, the Philippines, represented by Secretary Frasco, was elected as Vice President of the 25th General Assembly of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), a position that the country last held in 1999. Moreover, during the 55th Meeting of the UNWTO Regional Commission for East Asia and the Pacific held in Cambodia, the Philippines was also elected as the Commission’s Chair.
While juggling projects under a multidimensional approach to tourism, the DOT sustained aggressive efforts toward tourism promotions, as affirmed by the fact that the Philippines and its destinations continue to gain global traction and accolades from the biggest award-giving bodies in the industry.
The Philippines bagged titles as the World’s Leading Beach Destination, the World’s Leading Dive Destination, and Asia’s Leading Tourist Attraction (Intramuros) at the 2022 World Travel Awards (WTA). The country was also hailed as World’s Leading Country Destination at the Uzakrota Global Travel Awards in Turkey. The Philippines was also awarded as the Emerging Muslim-Friendly Destination at the Halal in Travel Awards 2023 in Singapore.
This year, the country is vying for six titles for the Asia category of the 30th WTA.
A world-class Filipino brand of service and standards
In response to the President’s directive to “foster the Filipino brand” and “to spark our sense of pride and reaffirm our strong sense of identity”, the DOT introduced an enhanced tourism slogan “Love the Philippines” anchored on showing the many aspects that travelers will come to love about the country, including the country’s mega biodiversity, heritage, culture, history, and people. The DOT also embarked on a mission to train 100,000 individuals on the Filipino Brand of Service Excellence (FBSE) by year-end by capitalizing on world-renowned Filipino hospitality.
The FBSE is the Department’s centerpiece program that aims to promote the best attributes of Filipino hospitality and develop outstanding service to tourists. From the beginning of 2023 up to July 14, the DOT trained 61,368 individuals on the FBSE.
Further, putting a premium on tourist safety, the Department also strengthened its Tourist-oriented Police for Community Order and Protection (TOPCOP) program, successfully training a total of 7,575 police officers.
The DOT has also accredited a total of 13,462 tourism-related enterprises as of July 15, 2023, an 11.92 percent growth from 2022. The DOT accreditation certifies that a tourism enterprise complies with the minimum standards for the operation of tourism facilities and services.
With many more events and projects underway, Secretary Frasco noted that the DOT looks forward to achieving greater heights under the Marcos administration with the continued partnership of tourism stakeholders.
“We are also very positive about the sustained progress and development of the industry as we gather more support from various stakeholders in our continuing pursuit to maximize the contribution of tourism to the lives of millions of Filipinos,” added Secretary Frasco.