THE Philippines hopes to maintain Spain as a growth market for tourists once the global travel industry moves back into the new normal, post-pandemic.

In an interview with the BusinessMirror, Gerard O. Panga, tourism attaché of the Department of Tourism (DOT) in London, said the Philippines was the only Southeast Asian country with a booth at the just-concluded Fitur, the most important travel trade and consumer event in Spain. It is the first international travel trade show the Philippines attended and despite the lean delegation, he said they were able to “network with key Spanish trade counterparts and media supporters, [updating] them on our destinations and travel safety measures relative to the country’s reopening preparations and promotional plans.”

Prior to the pandemic, the Philippines recorded the largest growth rate in terms of Spanish travel to Southeast Asia, at close to 50,000 arrivals, up 12.7 percent in 2019, and coming in only second to Singapore, as a destination market for Spaniards in the region.

Spaniards were also the top source market for tourists in Siargao, the country’s surfing capital, and the third largest market in El Nido, where many high-end resorts are owned by the Zobel-led Ayala Group. “The Spanish travelers go mainly for beach holidays, nature trips, cultural immersion, soft adventure, scuba diving as well as health and wellness with Palawan, Siargao, the Cordilleras, Boracay, Cebu, Manila, Bohol, and the Bicol Region among the most sought-after destinations,” said Panga.

Philippines Tourism Attaché to London Gerard Panga (right) talks about the country’s reopening plans and key tourism destinations with Euro TV. (Contributed photo)

No direct flights, an obstacle

Despite the historical and cultural ties between both nations, Spain only ranks number 17 among the Philippines’s source markets for tourists. The DOT official explains this is mainly due to the lack of “direct access” via flights between both countries.

“During normal times, we count on Middle East carriers (Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Air) plus Cathay Pacific, Turkish Airlines and Singapore Airlines for Spanish travel to the Philippines. So yes, direct flight access makes a difference. We had that advantage in the UK through PAL (Philippine Airlines), despite a five times to seven times weekly service only,” he explained. UK is the eighth-ranking market source for tourists, with 209,206 arrivals in 2019, an increase of 4.06 percent.

“But across all these metrics, we have a chance to grow further our Spanish arrivals once the global travel industry normalizes,” Panga underscored.

The Philippines only had a 40-square-meter booth at Fitur from May 19 to 23 this year versus its usual 110 sqm, with only one tour operator in physical attendance, IndoChina Strings. “But we registered in the virtual B2B (business-to-business) meetings of our regular private sector participating companies in the month-long online business platform from May 5 to June 4,” he added.

The private sector participants included Amorita Resort, Annset Holidays Inc., Baron Travel, Blue Horizons, Corporate International Travel, El Nido Resorts, IndoChina Strings, Intas Destination Management, Rajah Tours, Sharp Travel, Travelexperts, Uni Orient, and Travelite Travel.

Trade supporters were Kara Tours (Malaga) and Viatges Traveljess (Barcelona), which mostly sell tickets and air+hotel programs to overseas Filipinos and Fil-Spanish families, as well as Filipinas Unica (Madrid), which organizes all-inclusive tour programs to the mainstream market, plus Fil-Spanish families and corporate accounts.

At its 2020 staging, Fitur attracted 11,040 companies from 165 countries and regions, 150,011 trade visitors and 111,089 visitors from the general public.

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