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The number of foreign tourists who visited the Philippines' top 16 regional destinations outside Metro Manila rose 6.4 percent year-on-year in the first six months of 2009, according to the Department of Tourism or DOT.
"Foreign arrivals in key destinations increased 6 percent in the first half of the year despite a decrease of 6 percent in inbound visitors into East Asia and the Pacific," Tourism Secretary Ace Durano said in his semestral report.
While the DOT did not release the complete international visitor arrivals data in Metro Manila for the period, there was a decline of about 5 to 7 percent in arrivals from other countries this year, according to other government offices. Data from the Bureau of Immigration show that a total of 1.22 million foreigners arrived in the country from January to May 2009, compared to 1.31 million who arrived in the same period last year.
This was supported by Carmelo Arcilla, executive director of the Civil Aeronautics Board, who said there was a 5 percent drop in international airline passengers in the first semester.
What made up for the slack in foreign visitor arrivals was the double-digit growth in domestic tourism which provided the impetus to sustain tourism growth in the midst of challenges brought by the global financial crisis and Influenza A (H1N1).
"This feat is attributed to the substantial increase in domestic tourism by 20 percent in the second quarter of 2009, which enhanced the business and investment confidence in the sector during the period January to June 2009," Durano said.
He said the changing lifestyle and travel pattern of more Filipinos and Philippine residents to spend their Holy Week, long weekends and summer/ holiday vacation in the various tourist areas of the country boosted tourist flow.
Altogether, foreign and domestic tourist arrivals in the top 16 tourism destinations were up 16.5 percent to 4 million in the first half from a year ago.
The department was targetting at least 3 million foreign visitors this year, up from just over a million tourists in 2000. Durano said that as tourist arrivals rose, some 8,000 hotels rooms have been created in the Philippines over the past five years.
"As tourism facilities and products continue to expand, the DOT anticipates greater growth in tourist arrivals in key destinations towards the end of 2009. The growing interests among LGUs and private sector to offer innovative tourism experience for visitors will greatly enhance the quality of Philippine tourism products," Durano said.
Camarines Sur emerged as the country's top tourist destination, after it saw its tourist arrivals triple to 902,202 in the first half of the year from only 306,841 a year earlier.
The province, known for its wakeboarding destination, accommodated 147,504 foreign guests and 754,698 domestic tourists in the first half.
"The success of this local government unit initiative serves as a model for other LGUs to harness their tourism potentials and optimize local resources to create more economic activity," Durano said.
Cebu was the second most visited tourist destination with 830,599 visitors, up by 2.3 percent from a year ago. It continues to be the top destination for foreign tourists with 321,116 in the first semester, although this was down 3.5 percent from the same period last year. Domestic tourists in Cebu rose 6.3 percent to 509,433.
Durano said the expansion in air access from major tourist markets, including the new charter flights from Incheon, Busan, Shanghai , Guangzhou , and Kaohsiung as well as increase in room supply, aggressive promotion, public and private sector partnership to diversify the tourism products greatly contributed to the hike in visitor volume to Cebu .
Boracay was the third most visited destination, receiving 383,813 visitors in the January-June period, up by 6 percent from a year ago.
While the volume of foreign visitors in the resort island went down 4.0 percent to 112,315, domestic tourists rose 10.7 percent to 271,498.
Baguio was relegated to the fourth position, following a 14.5 percent drop in arrivals.
Other top destinations in the first semester were Davao , Puerto Galera, Bohol, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Ilocos Norte, Masbate , Camarines Norte, Puerto Princesa, Legaspi, Catanduanes and Sorsogon.
Visitor count in Puerto Princesa and Bohol went up by 63 percent and 16 percent, respectively, as diving, ecotourism, birdwatching, adventure and incentive tourism products were jointly launched by the DOT, LGUs and the private sector, according to Durano.
Five of the 16 destinations are now in Bicol region.