DAVAO CITY - The Philippine government is looking at the possibility of granting visa-free travel to Chinese tourists in a bid to increase tourist arrivals in the country, a tourism official said Saturday.
"China is considered as our low-hanging fruit. This is where the (tourist) volume in Asia will be coming from. In fact, (they had) 120 million outbound tourists last year and we only got around 491,000. Napakaliit," Department of Tourism (DOT) Route Development Head Erwin Balane told ABS-CBN News.
Travel requirements, such as visas, are among the "barriers" that keep leisure travelers from China from choosing the Philippines as a vacation destination, Balane said.
"If you look at Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and even Vietnam, Chinese tourists are all visa-free entry. That's why they are getting the volume of Chinese tourists," he said.
Around 50 nationalities have visa-free privileges in the Philippines.
Though the DOT is still discussing the proposal with the Department of Foreign Affairs, Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo "has already given marching orders to have one million Chinese nationals visit the Philippines by the end of 2017," he said.
"We're already at around 500,000 as of September," Balane said.
The surge of tourists from mainland China came as the Chinese government lifted the travel warning it had issued against the Philippines.
The development came shortly after President Rodrigo Duterte's four-day state visit to China last month.
There has been a 64-percent increase from 257,014 arrivals between January and July last year to 422,801 during the same period this year, the DOT earlier said.