MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino is confident that the country will be able to exceed its target in the number of visitor arrivals, saying that so far this year, the country has attracted more than half of the yearly average of tourist arrivals before he took office.
Aquino said this represents almost 40 percent of the 4.6 million tourist arrivals that the administration is targeting for 2012.
"Our achievements in this sector are real and tangible. Just to give you an idea: in the first five months of 2012 alone, we welcomed over 1.8 million tourists. This number is more than half of the yearly average of three million arrivals in the years before we took office. This number is also 39.6 percent of the 4.6 million tourist arrivals we hope to get this year-and historically, we get even more visitors in the second half of the year. If all goes as planned, it seems that we will achieve, and maybe even breach this target," Aquino said in a speech during a courtesy call made by the participants of 7th Consuls-General and Tourism Directors Tour in the Palace.
"We didn't reinvent the wheel here; we just relied on a simple strategy: to make it easier and more fun for tourists to come to the Philippines," he said.
The President credits the pocket open skies policy for the growth, saying that this has increased incoming and outgoing flights by almost 15 percent from January to June this year.
"This has led to a similar increase in inbound and outbound passenger traffic growth for both international and domestic travelers," he said.
He added that the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has been constructing and improving roads leading to tourist destinations, while the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) has also been upgrading the country's primary and secondary airports.
"So, in a few years, we should all be able to take advantage of the New Bohol Airport in Panglao, the New Legaspi Airport in Daraga, and the Laguindingan Airport in Misamis Oriental, all of which should be up and running by the time I'm a private citizen and allowed to travel across the country," he said, as the audience laughed. "Not to mention the upgrading of the Mactan Cebu International Airport, the Puerto Princesa Airport, and quite a whole lot of others."
"We need only to match the excellent hospitality of the Filipino people with the same level of infrastructure and facilities."
He also thanked the participants for helping make the Puerto Princesa Underground River as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature.
One project that the President is particularly excited about is the construction of the connecting road that will link the North Luzon and South Luzon Expressways.
"One of the infrastructure projects that I am really very excited to inaugurate-and this will happen perhaps, the latest, by 2015 - is a connector for the North Luzon and South Luzon Expressways. Once established, and we will not have one, we will have actually two, and these are all private efforts. Once that is done, the travel time from Clark in Pampanga to Calamba in Laguna will be reduced to about an hour and fifteen minutes," he said.
He urged the participants to become "ambassadors" to help promote tourism in the country.
"I have always believed that each Filipino is an ambassador of his country, and perhaps this is true especially for many of you gathered here today. You may have built new lives and found your places in new communities, but you also continue to maintain strong ties to the motherland. You are the ones who have seen and experienced our fiestas and festivals firsthand, you know how warm and accommodating our people are, and you know exactly what the Philippines has to offer. At the end of the day, it is you that your friends and family in the United States, Canada, and Guam will believe when you tell them, 'It's more fun in the Philippines,'" he said.