Improved ties between Manila and Beijing are expected to "double" tourist arrivals in the Philippines, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said Thursday.
"Dati kasi na hindi matindi ang pagkakaibigan natin sa China, hindi tayo pinupuntahan ng China. Pumupunta sila sa Malaysia, Thailand," Roque said in a press conference in Baguio City,
Direct flights and cruise routes between Chinese and Philippine destinations have been opened since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016.
In 2017, the number of Chinese tourist arrivals reached 968,447, 43.3 percent higher than the 665,663 Chinese tourist arrivals in 2016, Roque said.
"Mahina 'yung 5 million tourists lang sa China so sa Chinese tourists alone, we can double our tourist arrivals," he said.
Last year, Philippine envoy to China Chito Sta. Romana said China was expected to become the Philippines' "number one source of tourism" as diplomatic posts continue to be "flooded" with visa applications from Chinese tourists.
The Department of Tourism earlier said it plans to push for a visa-free policy for Chinese tourists to meet their target of 12 million tourist arrivals by the end of Duterte's term in 2022.
Despite territorial and maritime disputes between Manila and Beijing, closer ties were forged between the Philippines and China after Duterte turned away from traditional ally Washington in 2016 after then-US President Barack Obama criticized his bloody war on drugs.