September 25, 2023
THE Europeans are coming! This was the assurance made by Romania’s Ambassador to the Philippines Raduta Dana Matache on Wednesday at a European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP) luncheon where tourism prospects in the Philippines were discussed.
“We hope in a few months there will be a free trade agreement [FTA] between the Philippines and the European Union [EU]. This will be an engine for business coming here. Business also attracts tourists. So I believe that there will be a lot more European tourists in the Philippines,” she said at the event’s open forum.
Talks have resumed between the Philippines and the EU for an FTA, which started in 2015 under the administration of President Aquino, but ground to a halt under the term of President Duterte. The EU is the Philippines’s fourth largest trade partner, with bilateral trade having reached US$19 billion in 2022.
DOT Undersecretary for Finance Shereen Yu-Pamintuan, a key speaker at the ECCP meeting, said the agency recognizes the importance of Europe as a major source market for tourists. “We are focusing on developing all of the products that are the top of mind of the Europeans. We noticed that they don’t come here just for sun and beach; many Europeans come here to learn about sustainable development goals, to learn about our communities live the authentic way of experiencing the Philipines,” she added.
Thai-PHL island destinations
DATA from the Department of Tourism (DOT) showed 415,348 visitors from Europe from January to September 18 this year, just 29 percent less than the 583,338 who arrived from January to September 30, 2019.
For his part, Thailand Ambassdor to the Philippines Tull Traisorat cited the need for flight connections to encourage their own tourists in Phuket or Koh Samui to go on to other key destinations in the Philippines like Boracay, Cebu, Bohol, and Palawan. “I’ve been promoting the two-way tourism between Thailand and the Philippines according to the ’two countries-one destination’ [program]…. So those divers who come to Phuket [can] continue to Cebu or Palawan, or those who come to Cebu, will continue to Phuket…. But the key is direct flights,” he stressed.
Meanwhile, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) projects that recovery of international flight connectivity and passenger traffic to the Philippines will likely be in 2026. IATA country manager Samuel David noted that while cargo ticket sales have doubled, “We’re not quite there. As of June 2023, when you compare our passenger data of travelers to the Philippines to 2019, we’re still at 75 percent international passenger traffic.”
‘Headwinds’ to flight recovery
HE added, in terms of international air connectivity, the Philippines was just 19-percent short of the prepandemic levels. “If we can bridge that gap, then you will have more access to locations like Cebu, Zamboanga, and other areas outside of Metro Manila,” he said.
But David also warned of “headwinds that may affect the full recovery of international traffic and flight connectivity to the Philippines due to global developments such as economic uncertaintities, geopolitical situations [e.g. Ukraine-Russia and other hot spots] that forced the closure of airspace,” rising fuel prices, shortage of manpower, among others. Just recently, local carriers have had to deal with global supply chain issues leading to shortage in aircraft spare parts, forcing them to frequently cancel or delay their flights.
For her part, lawyer Cenelyn Manguilimotan-Dalnay, chief operating officer of Parklane Hotels and Resorts, echoed the sentiment of the airline sector, that in terms of recovery, “We’re getting there, but we’re not really totally there.” But she expressed optimism that hotel industry will return to pre-pandemic profitability “around late next year, and hopefully early 2025.” She attributed her optimistic projection to the developments in her own property, which has been performing well ahead of its targets in this year’s budget.