The Philippines is expecting a 15 to 20 percent increase in the number of Qatari visitors this year while setting a target of seven to eight million international visitors for 2017, an official from the Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT) has said.

“For this year, we are targeting a low of seven million and a high of eight million foreign visitors across all markets. From Qatar, since it is regarded as an opportunity market, we hope that we can grow between 15 to 20 percent,” Philippine Tourism Undersecretary Benito Bengzon, Jr. told this daily recently.

Speaking to The Peninsula on the sidelines of Philippine Department of Tourism’s B2B Networking and Fashion Show on Sunday, Bengzon said around 5,000 Qataris visited the Philippines last year.

“In 2016, we had about 5,000 Qatari visitors to the country. They go to the Philippines basically for shopping, look for unique beach holiday experience, and there’s a certain segment that is also into medical tourism,” he said.

Bengzon stressed that more important than tourist arrivals is the revenue generated from the tourists and it is where Qatar as an important source market comes in. “Qatari tourists generally spend two to three times as much as the average tourist to the Philippines, so even if you’re talking 5,000 Qatari visitors just for now, when you look at the revenue that we get, it is quite substantial,” he noted.

To lure more Qatari tourists, he said, “The strategy is basically to create a higher level of awareness among Qataris and to impress upon them that the Philippines is the next big holiday destination in Asia.”

There are plans to launch new tourism products in the future, among which is to roll out a medical tourism programme and a dedicated programme tailored for ladies in Qatar and other GCC countries as well as introduce new destinations, he revealed.

On Halal tourism, he said “It’s a continuous effort and the good news is that there are more five-star hotels now in Metro Manila that are Halal-friendly. We have a few hotels in the Bay area and in Makati and a few restaurants that are also able to offer Halal food. We have an increasing number of Halal-friendly establishments even outside Manila like in Cebu and Boracay.”

The Philippines witnessed around six million foreign visitors last year, an increase of 10.5 percent compared to 2015.

“Last year, we generated about six million foreign visitors and that represents a growth rate of about 10.5 percent, which is higher than the global average of about 4.5 percent and even higher than the Asian average of about 6.5 percent. It clearly shows that tourism in the Philippines is growing at a faster rate,” he said.

Bengzon was in Doha leading a delegation comprising Philippine-based hotels and resorts, travel operators and tourism entities aimed at bolstering the Philippines’ outbound tourism from Qatar.

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