Tuesday August 21, 2018

Easy visa guidelines sought

THE Department of Tourism (DOT) wants friendlier visa guidelines to attract more foreign visitors to visit the country.

Tourism Undersecretary Benito Bengzon Jr. yesterday said that a top-level inter-agency meeting is scheduled next week to discuss initiatives to make it easier for foreign tourists to enter the country.

The meeting will be attended by top officials of the Department of Tourism, Department of Foreign Affairs, and Department of Justice.

“We hope to offer innovative intervention. We do realize that each agency has its own mandate and concerns, but we are hoping to strike a balance,” said Bengzon, during the Tourism Innovation Summit held yesterday at the Marco Polo Plaza Cebu.

The DOT, he said, is pushing for friendlier visa guidelines, particularly for major markets like China and India.

“Many of our Asean neighbors have long relaxed their (visa) requirements and are now reaping benefits of their own and recording incremental growth in these markets,” said Bengzon.

Earlier last year, the government implemented the visa-upon-arrival policy for Chinese nationals visiting the Philippines. Such initiative has led to the increase in direct flights and high arrivals between the Philippines and China.

The DOT eyes to offer the same for Indian tourists. The agency said granting easy access to the country would also lead to the possibility of more flights between India and the Philippines and could also attract more Indian tourists.

First quarter arrivals of Chinese to the Philippines stood at 371,429 this year compared to the 240,354 in 2017.

Arrivals for India, on the other hand, grew from 26,905 in the first quarter of 2017 to 32,999 this year.

Countries in northeast Asia composed of Japan, Korea and China remain the target source markets for the country.

“These markets will continue to be our bread and butter and will account for almost half of all total arrivals into the country,” said Bengzon, adding that they will also continue to court other core markets like US, Australia, Taiwan, Canada, Singapore, UK and Malaysia.

Moreover, Bengzon said the DOT under the leadership of Tourism Secretary Bernadette Puyat will also focus on attracting other countries within Southeast Asia.

“This will have to be given attention because short travel time, wide range of low-cost carrier options, and affordability present wide range of opportunities for us to grow the intra-Asean percentage share from 10 percent to 15 percent to 20 percent,” said Bengzon.

Tourism opportunities also abound in markets like France, Spain, Russia, Middle East and Mediterranean countries, particularly Israel and Turkey.

“What we want to achieve is an optimum mix of source markets and to engage in a more targeted marketing approach to maintain and ensure that the headcount targets under the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) is met,” Bengzon said.

Under the NTDP, the government targets 12 million inbound visitors and 89.2 million domestic travelers in 2022.

Puyat, in her visit to Cebu earlier, said the country is within reach to hit the targets as it upgrades gateways, develops more destinations, and upholds international tourism standards.