TOURISM stakeholders in Cebu welcome the move of the government to persuade Japan to lift or ease its travel advisories against key travel destinations in the Philippines to revive the country’s pandemic-hit tourism industry.

Melanie Ng, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry regional governor for Central Visayas, “believes the easing of travel restrictions into the country while reminding the tourists and public in general to maintain safety protocols will boost our economic recovery and tourism arrivals, especially at this time when there’s heightened investors’ interest in the country.”

Ng is part of the country’s delegation to Japan. She noted that there were over 800 Japanese entrepreneurs who attended the Philippine Business Opportunities Forum and “they were very much impressed with the economic programs presented by the Cabinet secretaries especially that of Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco.”

Marcos and his economic team were on a five-day trip to Japan that started Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023.

Besides helping the industry recover, the lifting of restrictions would also strengthen the relationship between Japan and the Philippines.

“The Philippines and Japan have so much in the pipeline on what we can share and learn with each other. But first and foremost, we note that in order for us to further deepen our nation’s mutual friendship and interest, we must first be open to each other’s people,” President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said during the high-level roundtable meeting with Japanese tourism stakeholders.

Golf tourism

Lito Barino, chairman of Duros Group, welcomed the move of Marcos, saying it will help increase Japanese arrivals to Cebu.

“This is definitely beneficial to us here in Cebu, being the most popular destination for Japanese visiting the Philippines. We are eagerly waiting for this development since Duros Hotels is promoting golf tourism, a popular sports among the Japanese,” he said.

The Duros Group, whose businesses include tourism, purposely built the One Tectona Hotel in the northern town of Liloan to serve and capture the golf market which is popular among the Japanese — one of Cebu’s top foreign source markets.

The Duros Group also owns an 18-hole Par 72 international golf course located in Barangay San Roque in the same town.

“Sixty-percent of the market of One Tectona Hotel is for golf tourism. We will be offering golf packages,” said Adie Gallares, head of hotels at Duros Hotels Inc., in a past interview.

Prior to the pandemic, Frasco disclosed that Japan ranked as the country’s fourth biggest international tourism source market, with visitor arrivals tallying 682,788 in 2019.

In 2022, with the progressive opening of borders, the Philippines received 99,557 tourists from Japan.

In her presentation, Frasco also shared the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) intention to further develop tourism products that are popular among Japanese tourists, including diving, meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (Mice) and education tourism, particularly English as a Second Language.

“Over the years, the Japanese tourists have come to the Philippines for various reasons. The leading tourism products include general leisure and diving. The Philippines has also gained popularity as a preferred education tourism destination for learning English and school trips. With the resumption of travel post-pandemic and the growing interest in sustainable tourism, we are seeing new and innovative programs emerging in school trip modules offered in the marketplace. Mice is also a segment we would like to develop further,” explained Frasco.

Moreover, Philippines is also a popular retirement destination for the Japanese. And as a first step leading towards that retirement decision, “long stay programs to the Philippines are continuously being pushed.”

The Philippines holds the largest Japanese diaspora population in Southeast Asia and the fourth in the world. The Philippine Retirement Authority, one of the DOT’s attached agencies, also reported Japan to be the sixth biggest retirement market for the Philippines.

Japan-PH linkage

Marcos also urged airline operators to reopen their routes to the Philippines and explore new destinations linking the country’s hot spots with key source cities in Japan.

Among the stakeholders present during the discussion are the Asean-Japan Centre, Association for English Studies in the Philippines, Japan Association of Overseas Studies, Japan Association of Travel Agents (Jata), Japan National Tourism Organization, Japan Philippine Tourism Council, Marine Creative, and Mice Japan Magazine.

Airlines including Air Asia, ANA Air, Cebu Pacific, Japan Airlines, Jetstar-Japan and Philippine Airlines also took part in the high-level meet.

Takahashi Hiroyuki, chairperson of Jata, said with the potential resumption of tourism international exchange, the Philippines hold great potential to attract a large number of Japanese visitors with its many tourism offerings.

“The Philippines is very appealing for Japanese people with its hospitality and cheerfulness. Furthermore, the Philippines (have) a mild climate all year, making it a popular destination for younger people to relax at beach resorts like Cebu and Boracay Island. And for retirees, [for] an extended period of time. Many Japanese companies have also established operations in the region. We anticipate further growth as a business travel destination,” Takahashi noted.

International launch of BBMG

Meanwhile, the DOT carried out its first international launch of the Bisita, Be My Guest (BBMG) Program in Tokyo, Japan on Sunday, Feb. 12.

A collaborative effort between the DOT, the Department of Migrant Workers and the Tourism Promotions Board, the BBMG program aims to enjoin all Filipinos, especially overseas Filipinos and overseas Filipino workers, to become tourism ambassadors, including in Japan, where there are over 300,000 Filipinos workers and residents.

Frasco bared the many exciting incentives for Filipinos who will join the program and invite their foreign friends to visit the Philippines.

“The Bisita, Be My Guest Program will allow you to visit all of [these] destinations from Ilocos, Cebu, Davao, Palawan, Bohol, Boracay, Baguio, Batanes, Bicol, Camiguin, Leyte and Siargao. The best part is if you avail yourself of the Bisita, Be My Guest Program, you will have a chance to win raffle prizes,” she said.

According to Frasco, free holiday vacations to destinations including Ilocos, Cebu, Davao, Palawan, Bohol, Boracay, Baguio, Batanes, Bicol, Camiguin, Leyte and Siargao, air tickets and a condominium await lucky winners.