IF THERE is one strategy that could help Cebu boost its connection to other major tourism markets in the world, it is relaxing visa policies.
Officials of the GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corp. (GMCAC) reiterated the need for the Philippines to ease its visa policies. The team vowed to continue holding dialogues with the government to help the country book high foreign tourist traffic.
“One challenge for tourists getting in is visa restrictions,” said Aines Librodo, GMCAC head for airline marketing and tourism development.
She explained that while they remain aggressive in selling Cebu and the Philippines to other markets such as India, what hinders them from coming in volume is the Philippines’ visa regulations.
Librodo said that while they understand the security considerations that come from creating visa policies, it is an area that the government should look into if it wants to boost its tourism figures and be a competitive destination in Southeast Asia.
GMCAC chief executive advisor Andrew Harrison explained that when a new airport opens, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it will be flocked by airlines and tourists.
He said that for an airline company to decide to mount direct flights between two destinations, it should have a high volume of passengers and cargo to serve.
“Airlines don’t come just because you have a nice airport. They come because of the traffic,” said Harrison, adding that if the country can expand its market base by adjusting its visa policies, more carriers will consider mounting direct connections or expand their flight frequencies.
For next year, they see expansions in flight frequencies triggered by domestic travel.
Harrison said the government may look into offering eVisa and visa-upon-arrival (VUA) to make tourists’ entry into the Philippines easier and convenient, especially with the new breed of travelers who love spur-of-the-moment adventures.
“If we are able to look into this matter, we will be a competitive destination like Bali (Indonesia) and Thailand,” said Harrison.
Both destinations enjoy high tourist arrivals.
I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport in Denpasar, Indonesia, the airport closest to Bali, welcomed 5.2 million foreign tourists from January to October, a 6.5 percent increase from 4.9 million visitors recorded in the same period last year.
Foreign tourists who visited Thailand reached 28.5 million from January to September this year, up by 8.71 percent from the same period last year. In September alone, Phuket International Airport logged 307,574 international arrivals.
Besides targeting the usual markets--Japan, Korea and China--GMCAC officials said they will continue to lure Indian travelers.
In August this year, the airport’s marketing team went on a six-day sales mission to five cities in India.
Librodo admitted Cebu is not well known among most Indians, and that the Philippines is not yet a top-of-mind travel destination. She noted the lack of direct flights in place.
But Librodo said that if the government eases its visa policies for this market, airlines, including those from the Philippines, may consider mounting more flights.
The Department of Tourism (DOT) has relayed to concerned government agencies the need for the country to make the entry to the Philippines easier.
They specifically asked that VUA be extended to Indian nationals. The country issued last year VUA among Chinese nationals, which led to the spike in Chinese tourist arrivals to the Philippines and to island destinations like Cebu.
The Philippines welcomed 92,589 Indian nationals in the first nine months of the year, up by 14.63 percent from 80,770 in the same period last year, the latest records from the DOT show.
Arrivals from China, meanwhile, grew by 34.91 percent during the same period, from 720,875 to 972,550 arrivals. Visitors from Korea, on the other hand, dropped by 1.19 percent from last year’s 1.192 million to 1.178 million.
Industry stakeholders, likewise, expressed optimism in India as another big market to tap.
“India is promising. It is another big market worth exploring,” said Alfred Reyes, general manager of the 600-room Bai Hotel. He said easy access of this market to the Philippines will spur tourism and trade activities for both countries.
Carlo Suarez, president of the Hotel, Resort, and Restaurant Association of Cebu (HRRAC), said they are hopeful arrivals from India will improve in 2019.
“We are hoping to see improvements, especially that Cebu already has hotels, resorts and restaurants that are Halal-ready,” he said.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) estimates that India will account for 50 million outbound tourists by 2020. The country with a population of 1.35 billion is now one of the fastest growing outbound tourism markets in the world, second to China.
Indian spending outside the country while traveling abroad has doubled in the past 10 years, from US$7.5 billion in 2005 to nearly $16 billion in 2015. Estimated spending for 2018 is pegged at $18.8 billion, with outbound travelers estimated at 22.5 million, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council data.