Taiwan row may affect Philippines' tourism arrivals goal

Miguel R. Camus in Manila/Philippine Daily Inquirer

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The country could miss its goal of welcoming 5.5 million foreign visitors this year if the conflict between Manila and Taipei is not resolved in two months, a tourism official said.

This despite raw data that showed tourist arrivals in the four months through April growing by 10.6 per cent to 1.65 million visitors, according to Tourism Undersecretary for Planning and Promotions Daniel Corpuz.

Taiwan has barred its citizens from visiting the Philippines in the wake of the killing of a Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippine Coast Guard on May 9.

"There are 6,500 seats that can no longer be used because this represents chartered flights. That's lost so that could affect the target.

We are looking at 9,000 cancellations covering the months of May and June," Corpuz said Monday.

Assumptions have also been lowered in terms of Taiwanese visitors, the fifth-largest market for the Philippines in 2012 at 216,511 tourists.

Corpuz said they "will be happy" to nearly match last year's figure of 215,000 to 220,000 Taiwanese visitors. The Department of Tourism was originally looking to draw 260,000 Taiwanese this year.

The DOT official, however, stopped short of saying if the department would review its full-year target, noting that there was still time to recover lost ground.

"We will see if this [situation] could be resolved within a two-month period, after which we have a recovery plan," Corpuz said.

He said the plan would involve "intensive" consumer promotions, possibly aided by a social media campaign but he declined to elaborate.

"We continue to be optimistic. The plan is still to breach the five-million tourist mark by the end of this year," he said.

The country's largest markets last year were led by South Korea, the United States, Japan and China, which represent more than half of all tourists coming to the Philippines, Corpuz said.

He said a bigger factor was the status of the economic recovery in the United States. "If this continues to improve, we will see significant numbers for the Christmas holiday."

The Philippines welcomed 4.3 million foreign tourists in 2012, just shy of its target of 4.6 million visitors.