MANILA, Philippines - The Philippines is targeting to attract close to 2 million visitors from South Korea by 2016, according to a tourism official.
Tourism Undersecretary Daniel Corpuz on Tuesday said the Philippines is expected to record 1 million visitors from South Korea by the end of 2012.
The DOT is hoping to double the figure in four years, targeting 1.95 million visitors from South Korea by 2016. South Korea is the largest source of inbound tourists for the Philippines.
However, some Manila-based Korean businessmen believe the Philippines has to step up its game if it wants to keep attracting Korean tourists.
Sangwoo Noh, regional manager for Asiana Airlines in the Philippines, noted the total number of Korean tourists to the Philippines may be increasing but the rate of growth has been declining in recent years.
"In 2008, it was 611,000 but in 2009, it dropped to 497,000, a 20% decline. In 2010, it grew 49% to 740,000 and in 2011, it was 925,000, 25% up. But in 2012, the number of tourists is just over 1 million, so the growth rate is 10%. Although this has been growing, we know the growth rate is lowering. If this trend continues, next year the growth rate might be single digit," Noh said during the 3rd Philippines-Korea Partnership Forum in Makati City on Tuesday.
For the Philippines to achieve its goal of attracting 2 million tourists by 2016, Noh noted the annual growth rate should be at least 17%.
"The Philippines should not take the increase in Korean visitors for granted... With the current infrastructure and system, the 1 million (Korean) visitors to the Philippines might be a saturated point," he said.
Long lines at NAIA
Noh said the government should improve its airport facilities and have 24-hour operations to ease congestion. Many foreign tourists have complained of the long lines at the immigration counters at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).
"For the facilities of NAIA, Clark and everywhere, we have to increase the capacity for passengers and increase immigration booths. We shouldn't make passengers wait for 30 minutes to 1 hour," he said.
"The NAIA should also have 24 hour operations, not all the days but as many days as possible, so we can ease the constraints for runway slots and many passenger-related processes at the terminal."
Korea Chamber of Commerce Philippines president Edward Eun-gap Chang said the government should also simplify or eliminate the airport tax and terminal fees.
Chang said the airport tax and terminal fee should be included in the airfare, so as not to inconvenience passengers departing from the NAIA.
Golf courses 'discriminate' against Koreans?
Many Korean tourists head to the Philippines to play golf, especially during the winter months when golf courses are closed in South Korea.
However, there are complaints that golf courses in the Philippines are charging higher fees for Korean golfers.
"Many golf courses discriminate Koreans... They charge much higher green fees to tourists... I understand they charge higher green fees so they can make more money. But this is short-sighted. The green fees in the Philippines is already much higher than Thailand, an alternative for Korean golfers," Noh said.
Another concern is the "special study permits" (SSP) that foreign students, including Koreans, aged 18 and below need to secure in order to study in the country.
Many Korean students are also flocking to the Philippines to learn English. The SSP, issued by the Bureau of Immigration, usually costs P5,240.
"If we delete those fees it will increase more visitors to the Philippines," Noh said.
Safety of tourists
The government is also being urged to set up a "DOT one-stop, non-stop office," where tourists can seek assistance in times of trouble. This comes amid recent reports of several Korean tourists getting into accidents while on holiday in the country.
Chang noted Korean tourists do not know where to seek help when they are faced with problems or accidents here.
"My suggestion is to Secretary Jimenez is to set up a DOT center, a 1-stop, non-stop office to protect tourists. The center can be interlinked with government agencies like the PNP (Philippine National Police), hospitals, immigration or airport," he said.