Record number 1,400 Koreans arrive in Cebu to a “Filipino Welcome” led by Tourism Secretary Frasco

LAPU-LAPU CITY, Cebu — Seeing South Korea as an important tourism source market and driver for travel and tourism growth for the Philippines, the Department of Tourism (DOT) on Thursday (Apr. 13) hosted welcome rites for the record 1,400 delegation of incentive travelers from Korea upon their arrival at the Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA).

Leading the initiative to greet the Korean travelers with the distinct Filipino hospitality is no less than Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco who met a batch of 300 travelers from the delegation.

The travelers, who arrived at the MCIA via chartered flight KE 9615, are members of the Korea branch of UNICITY, a direct selling company on health functional foods, cosmetics and household items and with over 60 markets globally.

As a reward to their top agents, sellers, and distributors, UNICITY-Korea sends a big volume of incentive groups to Southeast Asian countries annually. This year, the company is sending 1,400 people in four batches (Apr. 9, 13, 17, and 21) to Cebu.

For 2023, Secretary Frasco happily shared that Korea has reclaimed the number one spot in terms of tourist arrivals to the Philippines.

DOT data showed a significant pick up in Korean arrivals since last year, with 428,014 or a 16.13 percent share of the country’s arrivals received between February 10–when the country eased its borders for leisure travelers—up until December 31, 2022.

“The good news is that as of today, we have over 1.5 million tourist arrivals to the Philippines and our number one top source market are the Koreans. So we’re very grateful to our friends from Korea for continuing to show their love for the Philippines as they have come back in droves, and the UNICITY group in particular, has come with a delegation of no less than 1,400 individuals,” Secretary Frasco said.

Frasco was joined by Lapu-lapu City Lone Representative Congresswoman Cindi King-Chan; Lapu-lapu City Mayor Junard Ahong Chan; Mr. Rafael Aboitiz, Chief Executive Officer of GMR – Aboitiz; Mr. Julius G. Neri, MCIA General Manager; Mr. Heejin Noh, Corporate Business Team Leader of Tides Square Korea; and Mr. Sangyeol Ha, Korean Air Station Manager in Cebu, and officials of the DOT including Undersecretary Shahlimar Hofer Tamano, Undersecretary Ferdinand Jumapao, and OIC-Undersecretary Verna C. Buensuceso.

To complete their preview of the colorful Filipino experience, the travelers were also welcomed with leis, fascinating performances by Filipiniana-clad rondalla serenaders as well as by vibrant Sinulog dancers.

Korea as an enduring travel partner of the Philippines

Prior to the pandemic, Korea ranked number one in terms of visitor arrivals to the Philippines, with 1,989,322 or 24.08 percent of the country’s total number of arrivals for 2019. As with other tourism source markets of the Philippines, arrivals from Korea declined drastically during the pandemic, dropping to 338,877 and 6,456, for 2020 and 2021, respectively.

“They’re coming on a daily basis and the numbers are increasing by the day. Last year, they were at number two, because it is the United States that [provided] our number one top source market. But this year, the Koreans have reclaimed the number one spot and we send out the message to all our friends in Korea, that you are more than welcome to keep coming back again and again to Cebu, Bohol, Palawan, and the rest of our beautiful islands in the Philippines,” she added.

Philippines as an ideal destination for MICE

Secretary Frasco, who earlier identified the diversification of the country’s tourism portfolio through multidimensional tourism as among the DOT’s seven main objectives, further noted that the arrival of a delegation as big as the UNICITY group as a welcome development especially with the DOT “seeing MICE tourism become a very strong product for the Philippines and also for Cebu.”

“They are staying for a few days and we expect that this will contribute greatly to the economy of Cebu in particular, and to the rest of the country in general, considering the multiplier effect of tourism is really so that they will support our local tourism stakeholders, our small and medium enterprises, and the like,” the DOT chief said.

To further boost the Korean tourism source market and visitor arrivals, the DOT through its office in Korea carries out marketing initiatives including an online presentation to educate the MICE players in the Philippines about the Korean MICE market, as well as participation to upcoming key events such as business-to-business (B2B) fairs, and a MICE roadshow.

As the DOT chief expressed confidence that the incentive travelers will be able to fully appreciate the beauty of Lapu-lapu City and the Province of Cebu, she also cited the potential of many other destinations – Bohol in particular, in attracting incentive travelers from Korea and other countries.

“We’re certainly also pitching for Bohol as an attractive island tourism destination in Central Visayas, especially considering the variety of offerings that Bohol has especially in terms of nature-based tourism as well as pilgrimage and heritage tourism,” she enthused.

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