THE country’s prophet of boom, economist Dr. Bernardo Villegas, advised it is time the Philippines makes tourism a dynamic sector, as it induces income and more employment to Filipinos.

While he noted that overseas remittances and income from the business process management industries are the prime drivers of consumption growth of the country, Villegas said tourism is another engine of growth that is set to bring the country to greater economic heights, should the other two sectors begin to have problems.

Villegas, during a recent economic conference in Cebu, said the country should not only rely on the arrivals and tourism receipts of foreign tourists, as the Philippines is already attracting 40 million domestic travelers who are discovering the country together with their families.

He urged tourism players to focus on enticing the active domestic market to travel within the country, as domestic tourism can instantly become a significant contributor to the industry.

Local travelers are increasingly discovering Coron, San Vicente, Siquijor, Malapascua, Camotes Island, Camiguin, and many other less known destinations, said the economist. These families, he added, include the 20 to 30 percent of the population who are already part of the middle class and are spending more on travel and leisure.

“Tourism growth could increase more, in terms of volume and tourism receipts, if attractions and promotions are geared toward tickling the traveling Filipinos,” said Villegas.

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), the Philippine travel and tourism industry contributed P1.43 trillion or 10.6 percent to Philippine gross domestic product in 2015. This figure includes the multiplier effects of tourism and travel on investments, suppliers of goods and services, and induced effects on income.

The contribution is expected to grow by 6.6 percent in 2016 and can grow at an annual rate of 5.4 percent in the next years, leading to total earnings of P2.6 trillion by 2026.

Two weeks since her assumption as the country’s new Tourism secretary, Wanda Teo, in reports, has expressed her plans to promote domestic tourism, saying there are more regional destinations in the country waiting to be explored.

According to Teo, Filipino tourists spend six times more than what foreigners do when they visit the country.

Data from the Department of Tourism (DOT) showed that in 2014, local tourists spent about P1.5 trillion in their vacations and staycations within the country. This is six times more than what foreigners spent in 2015, which is P227 billion.

Foreign tourist spending in the Philippines showed an increase, from P112.55 in 2010 to P227.62 billion in 2015.

She said the push for domestic tourism will be done alongside the country’s effort to continue luring more foreign tourists to visit the country.

Reports said some foreign assessors estimated 12.5 million tourists will enter the Philippines in 2022 if the momentum is kept by the new administration.

Sought for comment, Cebu Association of Tour Operators president Edilberto Mendoza Jr. said the 12 million tourist arrival target is doable, provided the country invests more in tourism infrastructure, connectivity to the islands and focuses on projects that attract foreign tourists to visit.

Tourism advocate Jonathan Jay Aldeguer said what while he has yet to hear the tourism plans under Teo’s stint, the country is poised to achieve the 12-million mark if it prioritizes airports and other key tourism related infrastructure that will enable access to top tourism spots. Aldeguer also cited the need to educate and empower the local government units to develop tourism hubs and attractions.

“At the end of the day, the product should be able to deliver the experience we promise in our campaigns,” Aldeguer said.

The DOT under Teo’s leadership is still keeping the “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign slogan for now.