CEBU needs to work twice as hard to get a good slice of the growing Asean tourism market, a tourism stakeholder said.

Alice Queblatin, Tourism Congress vice president for travel and tour group for Visayas, noted in a recent forum that the Philippines will not only be facing tough competition among foreign countries in terms of capturing a good share of the global tourism market, but also within Asean as full integration of the 10-member economies takes place this year.

“We will not only be competing against the usual Asean countries, like Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia because other countries like Vietnam are catching up. The open-border challenges us more. So as a country we need to double our efforts to sustain our footing in tourism,” said Queblatin.

She noted that tourism sectors in Asean will face tougher competition in terms of labor and attractiveness of the destination.

Travel within Asean logged 100 million tourists in 2014. Of the figure, more than half or 55 percent of tourists come from non-Asean countries while 45 percent come from Asean. This year, Asean tourism is expected to grow by 107 million, of which the Philippines expects to corner 8.2 million or a 7.7 percent share.

Queblatin emphasized that Cebu has an important role to play and is well-positioned in terms of helping the country achieve its target especially in growing its Asean tourism base.

However, she pointed out that there are several factors that challenge Cebu that require immediate attention from both the private and public sectors.

Cebu, she said, needs to have more three to four star rating accommodations to address the need of young travelers. Likewise, it needs more restaurants that can serve 50 to 100 guests and are Halal-certified.

“We don’t have enough restaurants that cater to tourists from Vietnam, India, among others,” said Queblatin, who is also a tour operator. “We need other types of food and make food as our capital attraction because this is one of the products that can never go wrong.”

She also noted Cebu needs more options for “dine-around-place,” an area where singing, dining, and dancing are within walking distance.

In terms of activities, Queblatin, who owns Southwind Travels and Tours, suggested that Cebu create and professionalize tour products like cycling and other soft-adventure activities.

She said Cebu has become a sought-after jump-off point for groups of biking enthusiasts like Swiss, Germans and Italians for biking excursions, which can also be offered to Asean tourists. These groups usually book 10 to 12 days for a biking adventure using Cebu-Bohol-Siquijor and Negros Oriental trails and, recently, the Cebu-Bohol-Camiguin route.

“Asean travelers are getting younger. Their lifestyle is more active with higher interests in adventure, so it is necessary that our activities must be interactive,” she said.

Moreover, Queblatin said Cebu should also capitalize on its being a hub to generate more arrivals.

“Cebu being the gateway to Mindanao and Luzon is important in the business plan for Asean travel. We need to map out connective routes that will further make us a hub for travel,” she said. “The travel trend these days is that in one flight, a tourist gets to see more cities.”

Queblatin said making ticket purchases for ships, ro-ro and other modes of transportation available at the airport would be a welcome development that will help strengthen the province’s connectivity to other domestic tourism destinations.

Other growth areas in Cebu’s tourism include diving, medical tourism, English language learning, and Mice.

The latest tourism statistics show that some 1.8 million inbound visitors arrived in the country from January to April, which posted an increase of 6.99 percent over the same months last year.

Asia contributed to the bulk of arrivals, with 237,196 visitors for a share of 56.03 percent. America followed with 84,483 arrivals; Europe with 45,635.

Australia and the Asia Pacific had 25,138 arrivals.