Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino III conceded that the maritime row between Manila and China had taken a toll on tourist arrivals in the Philippines but added this did not stop the overall growth of tourism during his administration.
Listing some of the gains of his administration in a speech at the inauguration of the new building of the Andres Bonifacio College here on Tuesday, Aquino said the Department of Tourism (DOT) managed to more than double the number of tourist arrivals logged during the previous administration-although it was a little short of its 4.6-million target last year.
"Allow me to boast a bit," said Aquino in Tagalog. "The tourist arrivals, for the entire nine and a half years (of the Arroyo administration), were perhaps 1.6 or 1.9 million. But it eventually reached three million. In the two years that we were in charge, the three million almost became 4.6 (million) last year. Our target (for 2016) is 10 million. So why did we fail to hit 4.6 million?"
The president did not specifically name China, but alluded to a "big nation" that jeopardised DOT's target in 2012.
"Kasi mayroon ho tayong kapitbahay na malaking bansa na medyo sinusungitan tayo paminsan-minsan. Pinagbawalan ang mga kababayan nilang dumalaw sa atin. Nabitin tayo nang kaunti. Pero okay lang po iyan (Well, it's because we have a neighbour, a big country, that is somewhat harsh at us once in a while. It barred its citizens from visiting us. But that's all right)," he said.
The president said he was upbeat about the continuing growth of tourism, particularly with a peace agreement shaping up to end a long-drawn out secessionist war in Mindanao. He praised officials of Dipologue for doubling their own tourism figures.
The DOT has launched an aggressive campaign to direct tourist traffic to the many islands of the country under the "It's More Fun in the Philippines" slogan.
Specifically, a total of 4,272,811 tourists visited the country last year, the first time the country breached the four million mark.
Although the target for the year was missed, the DOT earlier said in a statement that the figure was a 9.07-per cent increase over the 3,917,454 visitors in 2011.
It said that crossing the four-million mark was a feat in itself.
The DOT attributed "some shortfalls" to "economic and political pressures" (in the) traditional markets such as the United States, Europe and China".
"Despite a few bumps on the road, all key source markets still registered positive growth for the year," said Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, optimistic that his agency was on track to achieve its ultimate goal of 10 million visitor arrivals by 2016.
Despite the obvious lack of infrastructure to access countless attractions across the archipelago, he still believed that crossing the five-million milestone in 2013 was still achievable.
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