THE umbrella organization representing hotel, resorts and restaurant players in Cebu is buoyant about the industry’s outlook for 2024, citing a notable upswing in tourism arrivals and occupancy levels.
Alfred Reyes, president of the Hotel, Resort and Restaurant Association of Cebu, still sees domestic tourism as providing the most growth potential this year, as arrivals from crucial foreign markets, such as China and Japan, have yet to fully recover to pre-pandemic levels.
Reyes said: “2024 will be more promising than 2023. Everyone is hopeful of 2024. The trend is going up and we are very hopeful that 2024 will be far better than last year in terms of tourism arrivals and occupancy.”
The country’s tourism department aims to attract 7.7 million foreign tourists in 2024, building on the success of 5.4 million foreign arrivals recorded in 2023, which is 650,000 higher than the 4.8 million target.
Last year’s foreign arrivals generated more than P480 billion in international tourism receipts.
Reyes said the absence of Chinese and Japanese tourists is preventing the Philippines from further growing its foreign arrivals, alongside other challenges like accessibility and absence of free visas to promising markets such as India, a market that the country can replace China.
Arrivals from Korea, on the other hand, are already 60 percent from the 2019 levels which, according to Reyes, is already “a good sign for 2024.”
“The Korean market has been a big help for us,” he said.
However, he stressed that the domestic market will still be the main driver of growth with the ongoing geopolitical tensions in the West Philippine Sea and the challenges faced by Japan’s economy.
“Because of these, the Philippines will need to further boost its domestic tourism campaign and encourage more Filipinos to travel locally as they are going to fill in rooms and provide occupancy to other tourism establishments,” he added.
Airlines like Philippine Airlines are eager to resume their flights to Japan but couldn’t do so because of manpower issues.
“We would have wanted to mount again Manila-Sapporo and Cebu-Osaka flights; however, there’s a manpower issue in Japan. These are some of the challenges, along with fuel prices, and increased competition,” said Philippine Airlines president and chief operating officer Capt. Stanley Ng, in a separate interview.
Average occupancy, e-visa
In 2023, the average occupancy rate for hotels and resorts in Cebu was 60 percent. Mactan properties exhibited a split demographic, with 60 percent of guests being international and 40 percent local. Meanwhile, city hotels experienced a reverse trend, with 60 percent of guests being locals and 40 percent from the foreign market.
“Most players in the accommodation sector are thankful for 2023 because we feel the support of the local and national governments. The Department of Tourism has been aggressive in promoting the Philippines,” he said. “These are improvements we hope that will continue in 2024.”
Despite the improving number of arrivals, Reyes believes the Philippines is still far from hitting the 2019 levels without the Chinese tourists in the picture. In 2019, the Philippines welcomed 8.2 million foreign tourists with China providing 1.74 million tourists, second to Korea with 1.98 million tourists. Back then, visitor receipts were at P482.15 billion.
Reyes said with the reduction of Chinese tourist arrivals, the market will continue to see the so-called price war as properties work doubly hard to hit the 2019 levels. The Philippines will have to compete head-on with the marketing initiatives of other countries as well, in luring tourists.
“We were told that post-pandemic, every country will execute their strategies in luring tourists like giving them free visas and providing them easy access. Unfortunately, we are late again in this strategy,” he said.
He noted that Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco has been pushing for e-visa for Chinese and Indian travelers to make the country competitive among its Asian peers. It is now up to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Justice to implement and even roll out e-visas to other countries.
The e-Visa system for China was pilot-tested in August 2023. But on Dec. 1, the DFA suspended the operations of the Philippine e-Visa System in China until further notice.
E-visa allows foreign nationals entering the country for tourism or business to apply for temporary visitor visas remotely through their personal computers, laptops, and mobile devices.
India, on the other hand, is still waiting for the government’s decision.
Last year, South Korea retained its top spot as the country’s main source of international visitors, last year which delivered 1,439,336
The United States came second with 903,299 tourists visiting the country; then Japan with 305,580, Australia with 266,551, and China with 263,836.
Other foreigners who visited the country from other top source markets after China were from Canada, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, Singapore and Malaysia.