Travel industry urged to focus on domestic market


ILOILO CITY, Philippines — The Department of Tourism (DoT) is urging travel operators and tourism industry players to focus on boosting domestic tourism to offset losses from an expected decline in foreign travel due to the Influenza A (H1N1) pandemic.

Tourism regional director in Western Visayas Edwin Trompeta said Sunday the department has been advising tour operators and owners of hotels, resorts, and other tourist destinations to offer more attractive packages to stimulate domestic travel.

“We are encouraging more conventions, study tours, seminars, and other activities to offset any drop in foreign tourists,” Trompeta said.

He said a drop in foreign travel in 2009 is expected because of the pandemic and because of the continuing impact of the global economic downturn.

The World Health Organization last month declared an H1N1 flu pandemic and raised the alert level to Phase 6, the highest, after receiving reports of more than 27,000 cases and nearly 200 deaths worldwide. This was the first flu pandemic declaration in 40 years.

The Department of Health (DoH) has reported 861 cases in the country, as of Friday, with 634 or 74 percent having recovered from the infection.

While the DoH has lifted the mandatory 10-day quarantine for those arriving from foreign travel because of the generally mild flu strain in the country, it advised the public to continue practicing social distancing like avoiding public gatherings or crowds.

Trompeta said the WHO declaration, the significant number of cases in the county, and the global economic slump would push more foreign travelers to hold off their trips.

He said the DoT had not monitored any cancellation of bookings from foreign tourists in Western Visayas but was expecting a drop in the second half of the year.

Western Visayas reported around 700,000 domestic and foreign tourists in 2008, with earnings reaching P17 billion, including P13 billion from the popular Boracay Island, according to Trompeta.

Tourist arrivals in the region still grew by 5 percent in the first half of 2009. But the arrival of foreign tourists in the region is usually concentrated in the third and last quarter of the year.

“We hope we could balance off the drop in foreign tourists with more local travel,” Trompeta said.

While expecting a decline in foreign tourist arrivals, DoT said the country’s tourism industry would not be severely affected by the flu pandemic.

Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano said in a statement Saturday that from a global perspective, the H1N1 flu appeared to be mild and treatable.

“The state of the global economy is still the biggest challenge for the industry,” Durano said.

He said that while there were reported cases of the flu infection in populated areas in the country, these have not been reported in main tourism destinations.

The DoT agreed with the World Tourism Organization (WTO) and the World Health Organization in opposing travel restrictions. It, however, said the government would continue to monitor flu-like symptoms among arriving tourists and educate the public on how to prevent the spread of the virus.