PH eyes 15M int’l arrivals after travel resurgence

Travelers use the electronic gates at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in this undated photo. The Bureau of Immigration expects international arrivals to reach around 15 million this year after the international travel figures in 2023 more than doubled to 12.6 million from the previous year.
Travelers use the electronic gates at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in this undated photo. The Bureau of Immigration expects international arrivals to reach around 15 million this year after the international travel figures in 2023 more than doubled to 12.6 million from the previous year. BUREAU OF IMMIGRATION

INTERNATIONAL travel has made a huge comeback after the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic pummeled travel numbers in the Philippines in the last few years, giving the Bureau of Immigration (BI) the confidence to target pre-pandemic levels of arrivals this year as it also rolls out more e-services to boost travel.

In a statement, BI Commissioner Norman Tansingco said the agency recorded 12.6 million arrivals in 2023, more than double the 6.1 million arrivals that the bureau recorded in 2022.

Thus, Tansingco said, they now project much higher numbers for this year of around 15 million arrivals.

Regarding the 12.6 million arrivals in 2023, the BI chief said South Koreans topped the list of foreign arrivals, numbering 1,186,135 travelers, followed by Americans.

Chinese travelers came in third, at 417,128 travelers.

Also among the top arrivals were the Japanese with 358,534 arrivals, and Australians with 302,177 arrivals.

Also coming to the Philippines in big numbers were Canadians, Taiwanese, British, Indians and Malaysians, the BI said.

In 2023, December was the month that saw the highest number of arrivals, as 1.36 million travelers flocked to the Philippines in that month.

Tansingco said this figure is already fast approaching the pre-pandemic December 2019 level of 1.7 million arrivals.

“The figures we are seeing are a good sign,” Tansingco said. “It shows that revenge travel is real, and that international travel and tourism has regained its momentum after the worldwide lockdowns.”

The target of around 15 million international arrivals for 2024 approximates the 15.1 million arrivals recorded by the Bureau of Immigration in 2018.

This number shot up to 16.9 million arrivals in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic beginning 2020 destroyed international travel with the imposition of mobility restrictions done in a bid to arrest the spread of the Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19.

International arrivals to the Philippines plunged to 3.6 million in 2020, but this performance was helped by the first quarter tourism numbers as the World Health Organization did not declare Covid-19 a global pandemic until mid-March of that year.

The year 2021 saw the BI record only a dismal 1.4 million arrivals after the full effect of the pandemic on international travel began to be felt.

E-services

On Monday, Jan. 15, Tansingco announced separately that the BI will replace 25 percent of its manual operations to electronic gates this year. By 2026, the bureau expects half of its operations to be electronic, the BI announced on social media.

The BI chief also voiced plans to expand the bureau’s e-services to include other immigration services. Tansingco said tourists can now extend their visas online, promoting travel to the country.

Cruise

Tansingco also announced measures to attract more cruise ships to choose the Philippines as their destination, saying they are “finalizing the requirements for a more seamless immigration processing for cruise tourists.”

Last October, the Philippines was named the Best Cruise Destination in Asia during the World Cruise Awards 2023, besting India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam that were also vying for the award.

Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco said it was the first such recognition for the Philippines and that it reflected “a resounding global preference of our island destinations.”

In October, the Philippines was projected to have 128 cruise calls in 33 destinations, bringing in more than 101,000 passengers and some 50,000 in estimated crew. The final count was 125 cruise calls for the whole 2023.

From January to September 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic, the Philippine Ports Authority catered to 166,509 cruise tourists, SunStar reported earlier.

Tansingco expressed hope that the bill to update the 84-year-old Philippine Immigration Act of 1940 would be passed this year.

The House of Representatives passed House Bill 8203 on May 29, 2023 to modernize the BI, specifically providing for the establishment of an Immigration Trust Fund of up to P1.2 billion yearly to be used exclusively for the modernization of the bureau’s equipment, facilities and offices, including capital outlay for new buildings and field offices; the payment of employee benefits; and for training and other career advancement programs for bureau employees.

However, as of Monday, immigration bills in the Senate were still stuck at the commitee level.

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