‘Challenging year for tourism’

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Monday, December 23, 2013


TWO calamities derailed what was shaping up to be a very promising year for Cebu tourism.

For tourism stakeholders, 2013 is a “challenging year” for the industry.

Tourism advocate Jonathan Jay Aldeguer said this year had all the makings of a banner year for travel in the country until the twin disasters hit the Visayas region in the fourth quarter.

Aldeguer said the year started out “very promising” with both international and domestic players taking “aggressive” moves to stimulate travel to and within the Philippines. Target figures, he said, were on track and these even exceeded domestic travel goals. But the recent calamities in Visayas, where tourism is strongest, slowed down travel to these areas.

“The year 2013 was showing a lot of promise, even more than 2012, up until the multiple disasters that struck the Visayas,” said Aldeguer, who is president and chief executive officer of The Islands Group.

‘Big blow’ to sector

Cenelyn Manguilimotan, president of the Hotel, Resort and Restaurant Association of the Philippines (HRRAC), shared Aldeguer’s evaluation, saying that the performance of the sector “could have been better” if only the twin calamities did not happen.

Manguilimotan pointed out that Cebu recorded a lot of tourism activities in the first three quarters, up until the beginning of October. After the 7.2 magnitude earthquake, hotels and other establishments started to feel the impact with cancellations and postponements of bookings, travel and events. The cancellations continued after super typhoon Yolanda, international codename Haiyan.

“The recent earthquake and typhoon were a big blow to tourism in the region as well to the entire Philippines. Cebu and Bohol especially, both main tourism draws, have taken a hit,” said Aldeguer.

Roads and historical sites in Bohol as well as tourist attractions have been damaged while Cebu’s northern islands of Bantayan and Malapascua were also affected. Boracay, on the other hand, was not directly hit by the storm but has been getting several cancellations mainly from international visitors.

Relief workers

Arrivals of international humanitarian relief and military personnel as well as foreign media offset the postponements incurred by city hotels.

Typhoon survivors from Leyte and Tacloban temporarily billeted themselves in hotels, condo-hotels and apartments in Cebu.

But resorts in Mactan suffered a significant decline in foreign guests.

Manguilimotan said that after a huge setback from the Korean market after the earthquake, arrivals from Japan went down after super typhoon Yolanda. Korea and Japan are the region’s top one and three travel markets.

Big drop

Lapu-Lapu City tourism officer Hembler Mendoza estimated that resort facilities in Mactan experienced a drop by almost half in terms of occupancy after the two calamities. The fourth quarter of the year is usually a peak season for hotels and resorts because of the holidays.

Despite the huge impact of the twin calamities on tourism performance this year, Rowena Montecillo, regional director of the Department of Tourism (DOT) 7, remains confident the region will still hit the 3.033 million target tourist arrivals this year due to the sector’s strong performance in the first three quarters.

Initial reports from DOT 7 showed that the region already logged 2.5 million in arrivals as of September, which represents 83.45 percent of the target for the year. Foreign arrivals stood at 1.01 million while 1.5 million domestic tourists visited the region.

DOT 7 has a remaining target of 508,514 arrivals for October to December to meet its goal for the year. Montecillo said the region has an average arrival of 200,000 tourists per month. The target for foreign and domestic arrivals this year is pegged at 1.4 million and 1.7 million, respectively.

Tourism arrivals in the region is growing at an average of eight percent in the past five years.

Momentum

“We had a strong momentum at the beginning of the year. But it was cut when calamities hit the region. But looking at the arrivals we were able to generate in the first three quarters due to the aggressive marketing efforts of the government and stakeholders, the
calamities will not have a huge impact on the overall tourist arrivals this year,” said Montecillo.

Korea, with arrivals of 415,620, remained the region’s top travel market as of September, followed by Japan at 156,238, USA at 84,125, China at 44,276, Australia at 30,119, Taiwan at 27,081, Canada at 21,051, Germany at 18,657, United Kingdom at 17,928 and France at 15,614.

Records showed that 395,368 Koreans visited Cebu in the first nine months. Japan came second with 149,261, followed by USA with 63,795, Australia with 23,771, China with 23,745 and Taiwan with 21,793.

But what’s interesting to note, Montecillo said, is the growing arrivals from India and Taiwan.

Latest data from the DOT 7 showed that arrivals from India grew by 51.44 percent from 3,122 arrivals in January to September last year to 4,728 in the same period this year. Montecillo said this is the result of marketing initiatives they conducted in the past, asking Indian tourists to visit the region.

“The challenge now is how to retain this market once they land in the top 10 travel market list,” she said.

Big spenders

Indians, according to Montecillo, are big spenders when it comes to shopping, food and beverage.

A group of 40 Indian travel firms visited Cebu this year to check the province’s tourist attractions, including Oslob. Mangulimotan said members of the delegation were shoppers and she said Cebu can cater to this market so long as we have the right packaging.

Arrivals from Taiwan is also growing fast. It logged the highest growth rate at 288.81 percent as of September from the 5,605 recorded in 2012.

Montecillo is confident chartered flights between Cebu and Taiwan offered by the Philippine Airlines starting last November will turn to regular flights, given the huge growth of Taiwan tourists coming to Cebu. Taiwanese tourists are into eco and cultural tourism.

Although efforts are underway to rehabilitate damaged areas, Aldeguer said travel and tourism as a whole should rebound fast and rebuild badly-stricken tourism areas like Bantayan, Malapascua and Bohol.

Damage

“Bohol, for instance, has had several bridges and roads damaged. These need to be addressed immediately as Bohol thrives on its countryside tours to the Chocolate Hills, Loboc River and many others. We will also need to help promote these areas more aggressively,” said Aldeguer.

Montecillo, on the other hand, noted a recovery plan for Bohol is now being implemented with the help of USAid right after the earthquake hit the province. Bantayan and Malapascua are also part of the recovery plan which, according to Montecillo, will be implemented by January 2014.

On the other hand, the Lapu-Lapu City local government unit is consulting resort stakeholders on how they can come up with holiday promos for the domestic market.

Although officials believe that the twin calamities will have lingering effects until the first quarter of 2014, they are looking at next year as an “exciting year” as the region braces for Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) related events.

“The entire world will be looking at us,” Montecillo said.

Manguilimotan reported that Apec organizers have started doing initial inspections for the five major hotels in the city that will house Apec officials and delegates.

She said Cebu is a priority to host three Apec ministerial meetings that will have over 3,000 delegates. The city is also a second choice for the second round of meetings that will gather 2,000 participants.

She said the upcoming Eucharistic Congress in 2016 is another huge event that the city should look forward to and prepare for as it is expected to draw in an estimated 15,000 international delegates, not counting the locals.

“This is an event bigger than Apec and the challenge lies in the infrastructure and precautionary measures that should be put in place especially if the Pope will come. But we’ve got to be prepared early on because a lot of people will come,” she said.

The year 2014 looks “very promising,” according to Aldeguer, if the upgrade in the FAA rating materializes.

He said this will translate into more flights and access coming in and out of the country. But he reiterated his concern about the congestion in Manila airports that could be the biggest hindrance to growth next year.

And as Cebu prepares for Apec and Asean economic integration, Aldeguer believes people need to understand that tourism is one of the few industries where we can truly be the leader in the region. But, he said that as of now, all efforts even by stakeholders are still disintegrated.

“There is still lack of coherence in our strategies and moves to optimize the potential of a great product that is the Philippines.

We need to establish a culture of tourism not only in ‘pockets’ but as a nation. After all, it’s the people who are our main draw,” he said.

Postponements and cancellations of events brought about by the calamities will resume in 2014 according to Montecillo. “It will be a busy year for Meetings, Incentives, Convention and Exhibition (Mice) events,” she said.

“We had a tough fourth quarter of 2013 but we surely have a bright 2014 to look forward to,” she said.

For one, she said, Cebu will host the World Eco-tourism Conference in February. Some 23 cruise ships, on the other hand, are also expected to make a port of call in the country next year. MS Europa II, a cruise liner operated by Hapag-Lloyd, is scheduled to make a port call in Tagbilaran City in January and March next year.

A group of 1,000 Japanese high school students are also expected to arrive in Cebu in the first week of January to study English.

They are expected to stay in the city for four nights, according to Montecillo.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 24, 2013.

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