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The Philippines is turning to its 10 million citizens living abroad and friendlier ties with China to help boost tourism in a country that lags Southeast Asian neighbors in visitors.
The “Bring Home a Friend” program encourages Filipinos to invite foreigners to visit the country and stand a chance to win prizes, such as gift certificates worth 200,000 pesos ($3,900), a Toyota Vios car and a 7 million peso-condominium in Manila. The initiative, which began in October, will help the government meet its target of 7.4 million arrivals in 2018 from a record 6.6 million last year, Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo, said in an interview.
Only about 6 million tourists visited the Philippines in 2016, compared with 26.8 million for Malaysia and 32.6 million for Thailand, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
Rickety infrastructure and safety concerns — particularly in the south of the country, where a longstanding insurgency persists — have discouraged tourists. Among the favored spots for visitors are the white-sand beaches of Boracay and diving sites like El Nido.
Chinese travelers are also discovering the Philippines as relations warm under President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called pivot to the mainland.
China became the nation’s biggest tourist market after South Korea last year, surpassing the U.S., Teo, 65, said in Manila on Jan. 24. They’re going not just for the beaches but also for its casinos as gamblers try their luck in Manila.
The United Arab Emirates, India, and Canada are emerging tourism markets, the minister, who was a former flight attendant and travel agency operator, said. The tourism department is also considering boosting the nation’s attraction as a sports and culinary destination, she said.
The government aims to generate 473 billion pesos in revenue from foreign visitors and 2.13 trillion pesos from local tourists this year, Teo said. By 2022, the target is 12 million tourists. The industry accounted for 8.6 percent of gross domestic product in 2016, according to the statistics agency.
Tourists aren’t being deterred by Duterte’s war on drugs that has killed thousands and eight months of martial law he imposed in Mindanao, Teo said. Nor are they fazed by natural calamities, with the cone-shaped Mayon Volcano in south Luzon, for example, drawing more tourists since it started acting up in January, she said.
Poor infrastructure and weak promotion are the real challenges, said Teo, who had more than two decades of experience in the travel sector.
“You have to invest in tourism,” she said. “More airports will be built. More ports will also be built. The return isn’t immediate but it will come.”
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.