In anticipation of the surge of foreign tourists coming into the Philippines this summer season following President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr.’s directive for implementation of electronic visa systems, Department of Tourism (DOT), led by Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco, initiated a high-level convergence meeting with the heads and representatives of agencies such as Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of Information and Communications Technology, Department of Justice and Bureau of Immigration to discuss visa reforms to ease entry to the country’s tourist source markets.
The event is in continuation of the talks initiated by DOT since September 2022 with the concerned agencies to take up visa concerns for key tourism markets in the hope of finding solutions affecting the flow of entry of international tourists.
While the Secretary has recognized tourism achievements made last year as the Philippines ended 2022 with 2.65 million international tourist arrivals, surpassing the targeted 1.7 million figures, she emphasized there are still bottlenecks, which prevent the Philippines from fully unlocking the global tourism potential.
“For this reason, our President has issued the directive to various government agencies to explore how the bottlenecks to travel into the Philippines may be addressed. He indicated one of the ways by which travel into the Philippines may be fully opened, especially to important markets. We must also explore the provision of electronic visas (e-Visa),” she said, citing the President’s directive that government agencies must explore the provision of e-visas to Chinese and Indian nationals.
Indian tourist market’s potential
Emphasizing the importance of the Indian tourist market, the DOT stated 58 per cent of the total Indian visitors are repeat travellers. Thus, the need to continue the efforts to sustain and increase their entry by exploring travel mechanisms, an e-visa system, would make travel seamless.
India, the DOT stated, has risen from being an opportunity market for the Philippines to an important market for foreign visitors. “Presently, we are the only country that does not provide the e-visa for Indian nationals. This is a huge market that the Philippines is yet to explore,” Frasco explained.
Indian Ambassador to the Philippines H.E. Shambhu S. Kumaran replied, “Perhaps Indian travellers visiting ASEAN could be looking at a new destination. So, in many ways, not only in terms of the dynamic bilateral relationship, but also in terms of the larger trends in India, I think the timing is opportune for the Philippines to be doing something to reach out to Indian travellers. This, I am sure, will lead to a breakthrough in terms of how our nationals will travel,” the ambassador added.
China top tourist market
In 2019, China was the Philippines second largest market for inbound tourists, getting 1.7 million arrivals that translated into P2.33 billion in tourism receipts. “In 2019, the Philippine foreign posts in China processed 1.5 million visas for the Chinese market. However, it has been informed by the various airlines that the Philippine consular posts in China issued an advisory limiting the acceptance of visa applications per day from 60 to 100,” Frasco said.
“Of our low target of half a million Chinese coming into the Philippines, we would need to issue 1,704 visas per day. If we are to target a scenario wherein a million Chinese enter the country then we would need to issue 3, 409 visas per day. If we are to target two million Chinese, which is the target of the DOT, then we would need to issue 6, 818 visas per day for a total of 1.8 million visas a year. The numbers are not too far away from 1.5 million issued in 2019,” Frasco emphasized during the meeting.
As per the UN’s Worldometer, China currently has a population of over 1.4 billion, which translates into an opportunity for the Philippines. “With the projected number of visas to be issued due to the quotas presently imposed, revenue losses are anticipated. We stand to lose over US$ 2.51 billion in revenue if the difficulty in obtaining visas is not addressed soon. The airlines and charter operators have approached us expressing concern about the present limitation. They said they may not be able to increase the flight frequencies as they are prepared to resume due to low passenger numbers. Also, airfares and travel packages may become expensive and therefore, not competitive,” she added.
Simplification of education and tourism cruise needs
DOT recommended simplification of process requirements for Waiver of Exclusion Ground and exemption of qualified students to apply for Special Study Permit for the English language as a Second Language industry. With the resurgence of cruise tourism, the DOT stated the need for DFA, DOJ, and BI, as signatories of the Joint Memorandum Circular for Cruise Ship Landing Permit, should revisit the draft and give inputs for finalization as well as digitalization of the platform and making it an e-Landing Permit.
Concerned officials vowed to investigate the matter and expressed their support for the proposed reforms on the Philippines special markets citing same time, the need to “balance legal requirements,” in accordance with the law.
Commitment of support
As a commitment of support, DICT and the DFA vowed to work together to further the resurgence of the country’s tourism by acting on the matters addressed. The DICT will accord priority to support the DOT and the Department of Foreign Affairs,” DICT Secretary Ivan John Uy also committed the Department’s support.
“I have taken note of all your recommendations. Rest assured we will build this and give you immediate feedback,” Henry S. Bensurto Jr, Assistant Secretary said, citing the cap imposed on visa issuance for incoming Chinese tourists is a policy amid COVID surge that time.
“The results of our discussions today will determine whether we will be able to recover considering the potential of our destinations and transform the Philippines into the tourism powerhouse. We are hopeful the results of our discussions today would result in implementation of the e-visa system and the easing of other factors as discussed,” the Secretary concluded.
Among those who attended the meeting included DOJ Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla and Undersecretaries Brigido Dulay and Jose Cadiz, Jr., Assistant Secretary Jose Dominic Clavano IV; DICT Undersecretary David Almirol, Jr.; Presidential Management Staff Assistant Secretary Montano T. Nazario, Jr.; BI Commissioner Norman Tansingco; DFA Executive Director Christian De Jesus and Director Leilano Feliciano; DOT Undersecretary Shahlimar Hofer Tamano, OIC-Undersecretary Verna Buensuceso, Assistant Secretary Ma. Rica Bueno, OIC-Assistant Secretary Warner Andrada, and Tourism Attache Rene Reyes.