By Charles Lim
The travel and tourism sector will face many challenges in 2024, although tourist arrivals is expected to inch up gradually to it’s pre-pandemic volume. I have confident in the strategies and the niche marketing efforts of the Department of Tourism, despite the poor budget allocation approved by the government.
Tourism receipts will hit P1,87 trillion in 2023 and the industry contributes 6.2% to the country’s gross domestic product and yet the approved budget of P2.99 billion is so grossly and shamefully disproportionate. It is even lower than the 2023 budget of P3.7 billion by 20%.
The aim of DOT for 2024 is 7.7 million international arrivals as compared to this year’s target of 4.8 million which they have breached earlier this month and has surpassed 5 million! Our pre-pandemic high was 6.8 million visitors in 2019.
To support this goal, I wish to encourage some support form all stakeholders. :
* Better and more concrete integrated marketing efforts from the private sector is badly needed, targeting the overseas market. Certain regions attract certain markets; be it be leisure, adventure, dive, culture or gaming. Private sector, particularly the hospitality industry, must contribute and be more aggressive in destination marketing. Every tourist establishment should allocate 7-15% of their gross income towards marketing and promotions.
* Similarly, provincial and city governments too should prepare a yearlong marketing plan to attract both local and international tourists. Attending local trade shows may no longer be enough; LGUs must now venture out to your overseas target markets, in deep coordination with DOT and the Tourism Promotion Board.
* Hoteliers across the country are fortunate of the strong and responsive domestic market, offering a life line immediately after lifting of the travel ban due to the pandemic. They must now do their share to improve their international portfolio of guest mix.
International hotel chains, now prospering in the country, must bump up their marketing strategies on giving the Philippines more attention.
* Allow more visa free travelers from the major markets. Chinese visitors are still subjected to strict visa requirements in spite of being the top three market for the Philippines. Many ASEAN countries have granted the Chinese visa free status recently, so do not expect them to come marching in so soon through our airports.
* More infrastructures such as road, sea and air accessibility, leading to remote tourist destinations should be prioritized. Agonizing road trips to heritage sites in North Luzon to poor linkages to a a group of world class jewel resorts in Palawan, are some examples of negativity.
* Apart from Manila, there is no serious approach for the international MICE market. Sporting events, about time, should fall under this category. The success story of hosting of the last SEA Games in 2022 and the FIBA World Cup with the FIBA Congress in Manila this year, are good indicators to elevate and focus on this segment.
* Many destinations within the country are becoming jaded, either through complacency or lack of creativity. Some may find neighboring or new destinations; challenging and depleting their appeal and tourists. As more infrastructures, such as international airports are built around the country, and become fully operational, direct connectivity to target markets are anticipated. Already, Koreans are bypassing Cebu to fly to Bohol direct. In the coming year, at least four international and local air carriers have lined up to land in Panglao from overseas.
* Peace and order should always be a top priority. Unsafe destinations are a nightmare to our tourism stakeholders. The Israel – Palestinian conflict maybe thousands of miles away but church bombings, no matter how infrequent or isolate in the Philippines, catches the attention of global news networks.
All those water canons display by bullying Chinese coat guards and militias in the West Philippine Seas may have a negative impact soon. Some adventurous tour operator can creatively package a live-on-board real live action packed encounter with the People’s Liberation Army (sic). This may increase tourist arrivals. Question is, for who? China or Philippines.
* In a recent development, Philippine Airlines has hit the right note by signing a code sharing agreement with Singapore Airlines whose vast network globally, should augur well to attract tourists from the EU countries, Africa and India to the Philippines. We expect this connectivity to boost tourist arrivals but it has to be fully exploited to the hilt.
PAL too announced a similar codeshare with American Airlines. Hope this can provide the connectivity to North, Central and South America.
* Low cost carriers Cebu Pacific and Air Asia should also strengthen their inbound efforts and support fully DOT’s and TPB’s efforts overseas. On the reverse, more LGUs, through their tourism offices, should welcome and host fam trips of agents and media from abroad without hesitation.
* Climate change can have a huge negative impact on tourism. Disasters often cause a sudden shift and downturn effect on a destination’s appeal. Sustainability and responsible tourism should be enforced if we are to be serious in making tourism the leading industry.
* We are already experiencing advanced technology in the more developed countries with AI taking a center role in the hospitality and travel industries. This may run counter to those who advocate for true Filipino, Thai or Vietnamese brand of hospitality. It’s up to us to balance our acts, to avoiding the warmth and charming attributes from fading away. Turning to AI for the perfect customer experience?
Your New Year Resolution? Spend! Spend! Spend! Don’t be complacent and wait for the business to come to you. The DOT under the able administration of Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco must be supported with your advertising peso. Don’t have one? Just as I have imagined. About time to start one now.
To reach 7.7 million international visitors in 2024 from around 5 million is not an easy task. All government agencies as well as the private sector should roll up their sleeves and work hand in hand with the DOT to achieve some semblance of success.
Miracles may happen. And I want to be part of it. I am sure, you would too.
Happy New Year, everyone!
About the writer
Charles Lim has a long and illustrious career in the hospitality and aviation industry , spanning over 50 years, in Asia and the UK, focusing on marketing and destination promotions. He is currently founder and president of Selrahco, a strategic marketing and PR agency, based in Cebu.
His blue chip clients include Cebu Pacific, Robinsons Hotels & Resorts, Smart PLDT, Hotelogix, Sunrise Events and The IRONMAN Group and a few local destination units in the Philippines.
He is also Founder and Chairman of the Philippine Sports Tourism Awards and Sports Turismo Alliance, Inc, both institutions focusing on sports MICE events to boost Philippine tourism. 2024 Tourism Outlook