By Charina Clarisse Echaluce
By staging with elan and elegance the Miss Universe pageant during the first month of the year, 2017 the Department of Tourism (DOT) has reaped dividends from its management of the pageant.
After almost 23 years since the last Miss Universe pageant was conducted in the Philippines, the world-catching prestigious event was held once again (January 2017) in the country with its very own Pia Wurtzbach passing on the Miss Universe crown to Iris Mittenaere of France.
“Our islands, food, and the captivating smiles of our people were shown all over the world and with the help of social media these past few weeks. The world now knows how beautiful our islands are, how delectable our cuisines are, and how friendly and warm Filipinos are –just ask the Miss Universe candidates themselves,” Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon Teo said .
After over 10 months, the event has drawn more tourist arrivals to the Philippines.
“It has increased tourist arrivals. Nakilala tayo. Nag-increase ang arrivals (It has increased tourist arrivals. We became famous. The arrivals increased),” Teo told Manila Bulletin in an interview.
Over 5 M tourists
A total of 5,474,310 international tourists have visited the Philippines within the first 10 months of 2017, the latest data from the DOT showed. There was an increase of 11.54 percent compared with what was recorded in the same period last year, which was 4,908,017.
Aside from the Miss Universe pageant in the Philippines, there were other significant factors that helped the tourism industry in terms of drawing arrivals.
“Hindi lang naman Miss Universe. I’ve been going out of the country. Nag-ikot ako. I talked to the tours operators. Ini-invite namin silang pumunta sa Pilipinas para i-promote nila sa kanila country (It’s not only the Miss Universe. I’ve been going out of the country. I went from one country to another. I talked to the tours operators. We invited them to come to the Philippines so they could promote it within their countries),” Teo noted.
Chinese and Indian tourists
Also a plus factor for the increased arrivals is the growing number of Chinese and Indian tourists. Teo said the country is getting close to its target of one million Chinese tourists a year.
“We’re almost there, [we now have] around 900,000 [Chinese tourists], she disclosed.
Visitors from India, on the other hand, increased by 20.28 percent.
“With the surge in Chinese and Indian arrivals, we are optimistic to hit the target of at least 6.5 million as set by the National Tourism Development Plan for 2017-2022,” she said.
Bring Home a Friend
To gain more tourists, the DOT has also revived the “Invite Home a Friend” program which was first launched in 1994 by then-tourism chief Mina Gabor.
Called “Bring Home a Friend” under Teo’s leadership, the program is open to the public from October 15, 2017 to April 15, 2018.
The BHAF is a referral incentive program wherein Filipinos or Philippine expats who invite foreigners to visit the country will have a chance to win a prize. Three sponsors and invitees will be selected in the grand draw.
The farm tourism spots in the country are also being showcased now after the launch of the “It’s More Fun in Philippine Farms” program.
Teo said a series of activities will be held throughout the country including consultative assemblies of farm tourism stakeholders; and exhibits on diverse farm tourism destinations, farm produce, and “pasalubong” specialty items.
“It’s about time that we take steps to put farm tourism at center-stage, as the country teems with rich agricultural destinations as nurtured by our hard-working farmers, who we now recognize as major stakeholders in an inclusive and sustainable tourism industry,” the DOT chief stated.
A number of tourism destinations in the Philippines have also gained international recognition. Some of which are the Isla de Sta. Cruz, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, and Baguio City.
Isla de Sta. Cruz was included in the National Geographic’s “21 Best Beaches in the World”.
“We are so proud about this citation and happy about its very timely announcement which comes right after our visit in December when I had pushed for the island’s immediate improvement and development as an ecotourism destination,” Teo said.
The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park ranked 30th on the Cable News Network (CNN) Travel’s “50 Works of Art” list.
“Nominated as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River runs for 8.2 kilometers underground and boasts limestone karst formations, stalactites and stalagmites,” said CNN Travel editor Bija Knowles in her list.
Meanwhile, Baguio was included in the “UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Creative Cities”, under the field of Craft and Folk Arts.
“This is a fitting tribute to Baguio as a community that teems with so much talent, particularly in the area of crafts and folk arts,” Teo said.
Meanwhile, the agency has also faced some problems in 2017. One of the biggest issues was the controversial tourism ad.
The DOT had to terminate its contract with the advertising firm behind the controversial ad, three days after it was launched in the Philippines. The tourism department decided to cut ties with McCann World Group Philippines after “glaring similarities” were identified between the “Sight” and the promotional video released for South Africa years ago.
The ad company, however, denied that it copied the promotional material of another country.
Teo said the problem that the DOT had every once in a while in 2017 were the travel advisories issued against going to the Philippines.
“Iyong problema, always iyong travel advisories,” she disclosed.
The tourism head, on the other hand, maintained that she has reached out to a number of countries’, giving assurance that the Philippines remains to be safe haven for tourists.
“I always tell them, ‘Hindi lang naman magulo ang Pilipinas. Lahat naman sa mundo. Paris, they have their share of terrorism. Ganoon din ang London, mas worse pa naman. Las Vegas mayro’n din.’ So, parati ko sinasabi na hindi lang naman magulo sa Pilipinas. It’s even safer here as compared with other countries. Katulad ng nangyari sa ibang lugar. Hindi ba mas worse kasi ang daming namatay?” Teo noted.