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Tourist arrivals hit new record high in 2008

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International visitor arrivals in the Philippines hit a new record of 3.139 million in 2008, thanks to double-digit rise in volume of tourists from Europe and emerging markets such as Russia and India, despite the global economic downturn that affected movement of tourists in many countries.

The figure was up by 1.5 percent from 3.092 million arrivals recorded in 2007, according to Tourism Secretary Ace Durano. In 2007, arrivals grew 8.7 percent from 2.843 million.

While the volume of tourists coming from the country's three largest markets of the Korea, the United States, and Japan contracted last year, this was partially offset by impressive growth in arrivals from several European countries.

Arrivals from Korea went down by 4.9 percent year-on-year to 611,629 in 2008 while those from the United States slightly dropped 0.4 percent to 578,246. Arrivals from Japan fell 7.4 percent to 359,306.

On the other hand, arrivals from Russia rose 34.3 percent; France, 18.8 percent; Norway, 15.8 percent; India, 13.9 percent; and Spain, 11 percent.

Impressive growth was also recorded in arrivals from United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Canada, United Kingdom, Indonesia, Australia, Saudi Arabia, China, and Taiwan.

For 2009, Durano said arrivals are likely to grow up to 1.9 percent. He said he will be happy to keep it at a level of 3 million to 4 million, despite the impact of the financial meltdown on travel.

"The growth outlook for 2009 will continue to be weighed down by the contraction of outbound travel in key source markets. A 0 to 1.9 percent growth for 2009 is likely, largely depending on the recovery of key source markets. This projection is consistent with the adjusted forecast by the World Tourism Organization of negative 2 percent to 0 percent growth for the Asia-Pacific region," Durano said.

The United Nation’s World Tourism Organization earlier reported that international tourist arrivals grew by only 2 percent to 924 million in 2008, mainly because of the 5 percent growth in the first half. "The second half of the year showed an abrupt shift in trend with international tourist arrivals flat or showing negative growth in each of the last six months of 2008. Overall, the 5 percent growth between January and June gave way to a 1 percent decline in the second half of the year," the organization said.

 Tourism growth in the Asia Pacific region was declining rapidly by mid 2008, it said.

Arrivals to Singapore dropped 1.5 percent in spite of several high profile events while foreign tourists to Hong Kong with exception of arrivals from China also declined by 4.5 percent.

For 2009, the UN agency forecast that international tourism would stagnate or even decline by 2 percent.

Durano said the department's effort to diversify and offer new tourist products to the European market such as adventure, diving and bird watching provided impetus to stimulate an increase in awareness of the country’s tourist potentials and substantial turnout of high-value visitors with greater propensity to stay longer and spend more.

Cruise arrivals rose 22 percent year-on-year in 2008, with Manila and Cebu being the major ports of call. Aside from MV Costa Allegra, five new cruise ships arrived with an aggregate of 4,226 passengers.

International visitors directly arriving in Cebu rose 6.23 percent to 397,355 last year.

In particular, Chinese tourists going directly to Cebu grew by 74 percent while Taiwanese visiting the city increased 42 percent. Indian tourists to Cebu rose 42 percent.

Another major emerging destination,Clark recorded a 10 percent hike in arrivals to reach 106,016 in 2008.

The department said that in Boracay, around 2,132 rooms are under construction, which include Shangri-la Resort and Spa (219 rooms) Seven Stones (100 rooms), Nandana Resort (100 rooms), and Regency Lagoon (90 rooms). They are set to open this year.

Citing a study by the National Statistical Coordination Board, the department said tourism receipts to GDP ratio grew from 1.9 percent in 2003 to 3.4 percent in 2007.

"This feat augurs well to the sustained expansion in arrivals and receipts over the last five years," it said.

Tourism’s average share to the country’s GDP in 2000 to 2007 was 6.2 percent, making the sector a key growth driver.

Tourist receipts ratio to total exports more than doubled from 3.9 percent in 2003 to 7.9 percent in 2007 as expenditure of inbound visitors surged to $4.88 billion in 2007.

Domestic tourism expenditure also posted double a digit growth of 19.8 percent from 2003 to 2007, indicating higher appreciation for the country’s tourism products by local residents.

"Consequently, the increase in economic activities due to tourism investments in destinations also escalated construction services as it grew by 23.1 percent in 2007. Direct employment in tourism totaled 3.25 million for 9.7 percent share of total employment as of 2007," it said.