Last updated: 04:00 PM ET, Mon December 07 2015

Philippines Focuses Tourism Ambitions on Europe

Destination & Tourism | Josh Lew | December 07, 2015

Philippines Focuses Tourism Ambitions on Europe

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

2016 will be a big year for the tourism industry in the Philippines. Arrival numbers have been disappointing for the past few years. In 2014, the number of arrivals fell well short of the government’s goal, which was already rather modest compared to other destinations in the Asia Pacific.

Never able to reach its potential

2014’s arrival numbers topped out at 4.8 million. That is significantly less than the 6.8 million that the government wanted to get. Overall, the island nation had 1.8 percent of the international tourists in the Asia Pacific region. The next closest rival, Vietnam, had 3 percent of the tourist traffic, while Indonesia came in at 3.6. 

This is nothing new. The government has missed its international arrival goals since 2012. Issues this year — with security, travel warnings (from South Korea) and bad press for its main airports — will most likely mean that the trend will continue.

Hope for 2016 and beyond 

2016 could bring a very different story, however. The Philippines is trying to take advantage of the fact that its airlines are now cleared to fly to Europe. Carriers based on the islands had been blacklisted because they didn’t meet European safety standards. Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific were able to get off the blacklist two years ago, but other airlines’ European ambitions remained grounded until only recently. 

The government is trying to capitalize on these newly reopened routes. They are seeking a deal with France that could see direct flights between Paris and Manila. This is important because France is a quickly growing market for the Philippines. This September, this islands saw more than 34,000 French arrivals. That is almost double the number of tourists who came from Spain, which already has strong relations with Manila. 

Strong competition

The Philippines has been trying to highlight its eco-tourism, beaches and diving. The problem is that other regional destinations have similar attractions, a higher profile among international tourists and more direct flights. The hope is to quickly remedy the third of those issues. President Aquino is planning to ink an airline deal with another European country, Italy, in the near future. The islands are also aiming to draw more tourists from the Middle East, namely Israel and Saudi Arabia. 

China: the elephant in the room

Then, of course, there is China. Manila is not on good terms with Beijing because of disputes over territory in the South China Seas. China has issued strong travel warnings for the islands. So while other countries are trying to capitalize on the massive Chinese outbound market, the Philippines has to look elsewhere.

India is an obvious option, and it is another source of hope for the tourism industry. More than 50,000 Indian citizens came to the islands in September. Even more than Europe, the Indian market could turn into a potential game-changer for the Philippines. 

With growing markets and a newly found freedom for its airlines, the Philippines is in a good position to reach the goals that it has been failing to achieve for the past few years. Philippine Airlines also realizes that quality is an issue for itself and for the country as a whole.

The airline’s CEO recently said that he has a five-year plan to make PAL a five-star airline. This kind of ambitious improvement-oriented mindset (even if five-star status seems like a pipe dream) coupled with an entry into new markets could help the Philippines get closer to its tourism potential.

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