THE lack of direct flights remains a big challenge for the Philippines to capture foreign tourists from long-haul destinations.

Between Thailand and the Philippines, Swedes pick the former because of its developed tourism industry as well as direct air connectivity, according to Swedish Ambassador to the Philippines Annika Thunborg during her recent visit to Cebu.

Swedes also love to visit destinations that put sustainability on top of their game.

“The prime tourist destination for Swedes for many decades has been Thailand. It’s very popular,” said Thunborg.

“Thailand has really developed its tourism industry and we have direct flights from several Swedish cities to Bangkok, and then they can also take smaller flights out to the islands. They also have direct charter flights.”

Thunborg explained that such an offering to foreign travelers has made Thailand’s tourism attractive, especially to Swedes who prefer staying on the beach in their own cabin.

“Thailand has developed a system of cabanas and cabins. That is why Thailand is popular because people feel that they have their own beach. Swedish tourists would be less interested in huge hotel complexes. That is typical of Nordic tourists,” she said.

Sweden is a country in northern Europe with a population of 10 million.

The country is surrounded by 80 percent forest, 20,000 lakes and a lot of coastline, said Thunborg.

Sustainable tourism

But Swedes also pick destinations that embrace sustainability.

“Swedes love everything that is basically preserving nature, everything that has to do with sustainability, you know, circular economy solutions. Anything that they feel, there is no plastic waste or there are recycling efforts going on,” the envoy said.

They also love diving and other water-related activities.

According to Thunborg, the Philippines holds a big potential in attracting more tourists from all over the world especially since it is blessed with natural jewels and warm people. She said direct connectivity is a crucial factor in increasing tourism arrivals.

“The Philippines has the most, the best, and the most pristine beaches in all of Asia. I believe that the Philippines would be a very good tourist destination for Swedes,” she said.

Central Visayas welcomed a total of 4,441 tourists from Sweden in 2022 from 86 Swedes in 2021. Of the total, some 3,897 Swedes visited Cebu.

Since the resumption of global travel after the Covid-19 pandemic, the Department of Tourism (DOT) has been aggressive in its campaign to lure more tourists to visit and revisit the Philippines.

As of Aug. 11, 2023, there were already 3.4 million foreign tourists who had visited the Philippines, representing 70.34 percent of the 4.8 million target foreign arrivals for this year.

Foreign tourism receipts as of June 30 stood at P285 billion.

Under the National Tourism Development Plan 2023-2028, the DOT will focus on digitalization; enhancement of the overall tourist experience by incentivizing sustainable travel improving safety and security in destinations, and boosting air connectivity, among others.

By 2028, the DOT expects to have an accumulated total of 51.9 million tourist arrivals and 34.7 million tourism-related jobs.

Routes development

Moreover, based on the DOT’s Routes Development report for June 2023, eight of the country’s international gateways saw significant growth in terms of incoming frequencies and seats per week.

For instance, on a weekly average, compared to June 2022, Clark in June 2023 saw an increase of 180 percent in terms of incoming scheduled frequencies and 215 percent in terms of incoming seats, while Manila saw an increase of 75 percent in terms of incoming frequencies and 120 percent in terms of incoming seats.

In the Visayas, Kalibo recorded a 640 percent increase in incoming frequencies and 409 percent increase in incoming seats, while Cebu logged an increase of 300 percent in terms of incoming frequencies and 297 percent in terms of incoming seats, and Bohol had an increase of 200 percent in terms of incoming frequencies and 128 percent in terms of incoming seats.

Davao saw a 50 percent increase in incoming frequencies and a 38 percent increase in incoming seats. Meanwhile, Caticlan and Cagayan North recorded six frequencies from Taipei, and two frequencies from Macau, respectively.

Between June and July 2023, the country welcomed 58 new incoming weekly frequencies from various origin cities into the country’s international gateways.

The incoming weekly frequencies in June and July were Manila (seven Zip Air from Tokyo, and two Air China flights from Chengdu); and Cebu (seven China Eastern Airlines flights from Shanghai, four Philippine Air Asia flights from Tokyo, two Cebu Pacific from Taipei, and an increase from five to seven Asiana Airlines flights from Incheon).

Bohol had (two Asiana Airlines and seven Air Busan flights from Seoul), Kalibo (three flights from Hangzhou, three flights from Ningbo, and three flights from Wenzhou via Loong Air, four Ok Airways from Chengdu, and two TigerAir Taiwan from Taipei), while Clark had (seven Asiana Airlines flights from Seoul), Caticlan (three Royal Airways flights from Hong Kong), and Cagayan North (two Royal Airway flights from Macau).