MANILA - Social media was a big factor in the unexpected growth of the tourism sector last year despite the six-month closure of Boracay, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said on Thursday.
Puyat said she was surprised that foreign and domestic tourist arrivals surged last year even as the country's most famous tourist destination was closed off for rehabilitation.
Foreign tourist arrivals hit 7.1 million last year from 6.6 million in 2017.
The number of people employed in the tourism sector meanwhile also increased from 5.3 million to 5.4 million, she said.
Puyat added that she was most proud of the huge boost in domestic tourist arrivals.
THE BOSS An exclusive chat with Philippine Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat (@bernsrp) on sustainable tourism, and how local, Filipino tourists saved the tourism industry in 2018, on a year Boracay, the top sun-and-beach destination, was shut for rehab for six months. Despite Boracay's six-month closure, local tourists traveling to and spending more in local destinations helped lift tourism's overall contribution to the Philippines' GDP growth in 2018, says Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat. Tourism's contribution went up to 12.7% of GDP in 2017, from 12.2% in the prior year. Puyat says she was shocked to see a positive outcome even as top tourist sun-and-beach destination Boracay had been temporarily closed, and it was because local tourists traveled to lesser known destinations such as Siquijor, Dumaguete, Siargao, among others, and they apparently spent a lot more, including on food, drink and souvenirs. #TheBossANC @ancalerts @abscbnnews
"The goal was for 2022, was only 86 million. We have already reached 100 million domestic tourists," Puyat said in an exclusive interview with ANC's The Boss.
Domestic tourists also spent 26 percent more in 2018 than in 2017, Puyat said.
Puyat credited millions of Filipinos posting photos of their vacation trips on social media.
"Socal media has been a big, big plus."
Besides promoting new destinations, Filipinos on social media also dispelled misconceptions about the safety and security of some tourist destinations.
"And you see a friend post there having fun, you're gonna travel because you know it's safe."
The country's tourism chief also credits the agency's efforts to crowdsource photos and videos of popular and upcoming tourism sites for the growth in visitor numbers.
Puyat said they ask permission from social media users to repost photos and videos praising tourist destinations in the country, and most of the time the owners of the media materials oblige.
"With crowdsourcing, it's the foreigners and the tourists that will tell you our country is beautiful."
She also admits being an avid social media user, particularly Instagram.
Another advantage of social media, she said, is that users alert her about violations of tourism regulations.
"It's so easy to get in touch with me via Instagram. I answer every post."
The Philippine Statistics Authority said the tourism industry's share of the gross domestic product grew to 12.7 percent in 2018 from 12.2 percent in 2017.
Tourism's gross value also rose to P2.2 trillion in 2018 from P1.8 trillion the previous year.
Puyat, a trained economist, said she is now looking at PSA data to determine new metrics to quantify tourism's contribution to the Philippine economy.
Tourism can become a key driver of the economy, especially as the regional airports start operating, bringing in more visitors, she said.
Puyat is banking on the Duterte administration's Build, Build, Build program to provide tourism the exponential push for tourism.
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