Department of Tourism (DOT) received affirmations of support from tourism executives in South Korea after its officials assuaged the latter’s fears on traveling to the Philippines, amid recent safety and security concerns.
DOT officials, led by Undersecretary for Tourism Development Planning Benito C. Bengzon Jr. and Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, Communications and Special Projects Frederick M. Alegre, attended the Korea World Travel Fair (Kotfa) in Seoul, from June 1 to 4, along with Philippine tourism stakeholders.
The two officials also held fact-finding meetings with major Korean travel agents and airline executives, as well as Seoul-based media, to answer the latter’s travel- safety concerns.
Koreans were among those tourists who canceled their bookings in various destinations in the Philippines when the Abu Sayyaf attacked a village in Inabangan, Bohol, during the Catholic Holy Week break; and when martial law was declared in Mindanao on May 23, following the clashes between the government forces and a local rebel group, the Maute Group, in Marawi City.
In a news statement, Bengzon described the meetings with Korean tourism executives as a breakthrough in the meeting of minds. He expressed confidence that South Korea would still remain as the Philippines’s top source of tourists.
We look at Korea as a mutual partner in growth and in tourism, and our Korean partners are convinced that the Philippines remains in fact, a safe haven for foreigners, he stressed.
Visitor arrivals from South Korea hit 1.48 million in 2016, up 10 percent from its arrivals in 2015. The market also accounted for 24.72 percent of the total 5.9 arrivals last year.
Korean tourists have also consistently been among the top spenders in the Philippines, with visitor receipts amounting to some P70 billion in 2016.
The Korean travel executives, who met with Bengzon and Alegre, were Kim Seong-hoon, sales manager, and Kang Hyuk-shin, country manager, Philippine Airlines (PAL); Kang Yoon-ho, senior manager, Cebu Pacific; Yong Sun-Ok, senior manager and Jeong Chan-woo, assistant manager, Hana Tour; Kim Jeong-tae, manager, Mode Tour; Um Jong-hyun, CEO, Yoo Han Travel.
Kim Young-sun, secretary-general of the Asean-Korea Center, shared the DOT officials’ optimism about continued travel of Koreans to the Philippines.
The Philippines is close to Koreans, and we will continue to explore cooperation and tourism exchange, he said. Young-sun has been in Manila at least four times, he said.
In interviews with Seoul-based media, Alegre pointed out that the disturbance in the remote area of Marawi City was immediately placed under control, and should not in any way deter foreigners’ trips to the Philippines.
He explained that martial law was imposed temporarily in the southern island of Mindanao to beef up the government’s security measures versus any potential terror threat. He also emphasized that terrorism threats and attacks have now become commonplace in many parts of the globe.
The United Kingdom, for instance, has been a continuing target of terrorists, with the latest ones occurring at London Bridge and the Borough Market, just a few weeks after attacks were carried out against attendees of the concert of Ariana Grande in Manchester.
Alegre underscored the importance of disseminating factual information on the differing situations in the thousands of travel destinations, in the Philippines and elsewhere.
We are indeed elated by the strong interest in our tourist destinations, amid the challenges faced recently by our tourism industry, a major contributor to the country’s gross domestic product, Alegre said.
Among those who met with Alegre were Ji Won-kim, Arirang TV; Boeun Kim, Korea Times; Choe Hyun-yi, Korea Travel Times; Jepil So, Kotfa Daily; and Chung Sun-hwa, Ewha Communications.
Philippine Ambassador to South Korea Raul Hernandez joined Bengzon, who also addressed the International Tourism Forum in conjunction with Kotfa.
Bengzon assured the dignitaries and entrepreneurs from across the globe that the Duterte administration has embarked on a massive tourism-infrastructure program to boost tourism in small and medium-sized localities, which is the theme of the international tourism forum.
We are promoting rural tourism, including ecological and farm tourism, to achieve self-sustaining and inclusive development, he added.
He said the world-famous resort island of Boracay in Aklan and Panglao, Bohol, are among the small towns that have successfully developed and protected their natural tourism resources.
Boracay and Panglao are among the favorite destinations of South Koreans in the Philippines.
About 90 countries participated in the four-day tourism fair and was also attended by the DOT-Korea Office, headed by Officer in Charge Liliosa Libosada and marketing officer Jake Velasco, and representatives of PAL, Bayview Park Hotel Manila, Golden Phoenix Hotel Manila, Oakwood Premier Joy-Nostalg Center Manila, Okada Manila, Azalea Hotels and Residences, World Citi Leisures, El Pinoy Dive & Leisure Resort, Bai Hotel Cebu and Plantation Bay Resort & Spa.