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EU to totally lift travel ban vs PHL soon–DOT

THE Department of Tourism (DOT) is eyeing the total lifting of the European travel ban on the Philippines by the end of 2014, which will benefit flag carrier Cebu Pacific Airways (CEB).

Tourism Assistant Secretary for Market Development Benito C. Bengzon Jr. told reporters last Friday that this total lifting of the European Union (EU) travel ban would help boost visitor arrivals from Europe.

He was particularly hopeful that tourists from Spain would rise as it comes out of an economic recession, and the DOT steps up its marketing efforts there.

Bengzon, who was with Tourism Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez Jr. on a tourism and investment mission to Paris and Madrid in March, said “there’s a lot of interest in secondary [and] resort destinations in the Philippines, but there are still issues that we will still need to work on, particularly the EU ban, which still covers some of our carriers.”

Better island connectivity

The ban was partially lifted last July 12, after the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap) and pioneering flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) were able to resolve respective aviation safety issues. However, the EU maintained the travel ban on CEB, noting the crash-landing of one of the carrier’s planes in Davao just a month before.

“Right now, the ban is lifted only for PAL,” Bengzon said, “but if you want better connectivity to the island destinations, we have to work with Caap to make representations with EU to review the ban [on CEB] and hopefully convince them to lift it before the end of the year.” CEB flies to 34 domestic destinations and 24 international destinations in 14 countries, and is considered the Philippines’s largest carrier, carrying 13 million passengers in 2013, as per data from the Civil Aeronautics Board. Its subsidiary Tigerair Philippines flies to nine domestic destinations and two international routes, and carried 969,753 passengers in 2013.

International hotel chains wooed

Of the tourism and investment mission, Bengzon said they were “very, very surprised at the huge turnout with the participants in both legs considering we have not done a mission to Paris and Madrid, headed by a tourism secretary, in recent years.”

Aside from travel agents, the DOT officials also spoke with representatives of international hotel chains “trying to bring them in. This is just the start to sustain our efforts to maintain a stronger presence in Europe in line with the instruction of the secretary last year to start focusing on other European markets outside of UK and Germany,” he added.

The DOT is focusing on developing Europe as a key market this year because Europeans generally stay longer and spend more in the countries they visit for leisure purposes. The DOT also wants to take advantage of the new direct flights of PAL to London, which it launched when the EU travel ban was lifted. The carrier is also working on mounting direct flights to Paris, Amsterdam, Rome and Madrid this year.

Last October, PAL also launched direct-chartered services between Vladivostok, Russia, and key tourist destinations in the Philippines, including Manila.

Keen on aid from Spain

During the mission to Spain, the DOT also discussed with its Spanish counterpart possible areas of cooperation in tourism, Bengzon said.

“As you very well know, the Philippines and Spain have long-standing relations. It’s interesting, when we met with the Spanish minister of tourism, industry and energy, he mentioned it as one of the things working to our advantage—the long relations, the people-to-people exchange, and we are actually looking at the possibility of getting some technical assistance for tourism from the Spanish government,” he said.

However, the terms of reference of the technical assistance (TA) have yet to be finalized by both governments, he said. Previous to this, the Spanish government extended TA to the Philippines to help reconstruct the churches destroyed in Bohol and Cebu, which are major tourism destinations in the Philippines. In the 1990s, the Spanish government had also developed the master plan to turn Vigan into a heritage city, which is now one of the key attractions in northern Luzon.

Spain recently announced that it was considering the Philippines as its trade and investment hub in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Spain’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo led a 50-man delegation composed of private companies looking for business opportunities in infrastructure and tourism.

Despite the long historical ties between the Philippines and Spain, there were only 17,126 Spaniards who visited in 2013, up 7.74 percent from 2012.

“The figure for January 2014 shows a growth rate of 10.18 percent month-on-month,” noted Bengzon. “We expect the numbers to rise as Spain moves out of recession and the DOT steps up its marketing and promotions in the market. The visit of Secretary Jimenez to Madrid just a little over two weeks ago signals the start of a more aggressive and sustained campaign for the Spanish outbound travel market.”

European arrivals

In 2013, visitor arrivals from Europe rose by 8.31 percent to 479,472, with the top five markets being Germany (70,949); France (39,042); Russian Federation (35,404); Switzerland (24,907); and Sweden (22,957).

DOT data showed visitor arrivals from Europe up some 11 percent to 51,616 in January 2014. The region accounted for 11.18 percent of the total visitor arrivals in the Philippines of 461,383 for that month.

For 2014 the DOT is targeting to attract over 500,000 visitor arrivals from Europe as it develops “new opportunity markets” such as France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Spain and Russia. “Through a strong market-development push, we hope to generate more than 250,000 arrivals from these markets, with France and Russia expected to provide about 50,000 each. Together with existing key markets in Europe, such as the United Kingdom and Germany, we hope to generate a total of over half-a-million visitors from Europe this year,” Bengzon told the BusinessMirror in an earlier interview.

At the start of the year, the United Kingdom’s Daily Telegraph named the Philippines one of its top 20 destinations for 2014.












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