THE tourism industry has a lot to celebrate.

Official data from the Department of Tourism showed that at least 7,127,168 foreign tourists visited the country in 2018, the highest number in history, surpassing the 6,620,908 arrivals in 2017 by 7.68 percent.

This, despite the Boracay “closure” that naysayers said would cause our foreign arrivals to fall below last year’s number and kill our tourism sector.

Instead, not only are the top line numbers reaching an all-time high,  but the growth and the income it brings  is spreading from the usual destinations like Boracay to other locations like Palawan,  Bohol, Clark, and Davao.

Tourist arrivals are expected to rise with these destinations attracting more tourists to claim a growing slice of the market, driving up local business, creating livelihood and income for locals.

This can spur the expansion of local farms to provide quality food and serve as farm-to-table restaurants, and transport services that can ferry visitors. All of these translate to increased incomes for locals, spreading opportunity.

This rise in tourism will continue this year as improved infrastructure in the Visayas and Mindanao with the completion of new international airports and the beginning of night operations in cities that can allow more flights to increase arrivals.

Direct flights boost tourism since it saves the traveler time which would have been spent transferring flights in Manila. Better infrastructure lowers the cost of travel since larger planes and buses mean more group bookings that lower costs for the individual traveler. This also allows more varied accommodations and competition for guests.

Another factor encouraging tourism are the increased number if homestay or airbnb accommodations that allow groups of travelers to visit many areas that remain underserved by hotels. Davao Oriental and Dipolog, Dumaguete, Samar, and Siguijor are areas where these can work.

This drives up not only foreign arrivals, but domestic tourism as well. Davao as an example registered 2.4 million arrivals in 2018, a record figure considering the presence of martial law.

Yet another factor is the projected decrease in food prices resulting from new programs to boost agricultural productivity and the rice tarrification bill that aims to allow the importation of cheaper rice stocks that can keep food prices low despite the higher demand that tends to push up costs of these vital commodities.

With the support it garnered from key business groups, the effects of this bill are hoped to be felt towards the end of the year.

Apart from those forementioned factors is the exponential increase in Chinese visitors. While South Korea still brings us the most tourists at 1,587,959 in 2018, China’s rate of tourist growth is the highest, with 1,255,258, tourists in 2018 almost double the figure in 2016. With a billion people, the Chinese market is the world’s largest. This market is what is boosting the tourism industry of Vietnam.

These impressive tourism figures, though still lower than our ASEAN neighbors may indicate a  tourism revolution in the offing.  Income from tourism and related industries  equals about a fifth of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), apart from bringing in foreign exchange that have contributed to keeping our Forex reserves stable despite the global spike in oil prices, which we buy in dollars. If and when this increases, our GDP goes up while jobs are generated in the countryside.

Arriving in Panglao island in Bohol last week I saw a good number of small hotels and resorts rising. Locals tell me that once navigation facilities are fully installed, more direct international flights from Asian destinations like China and Japan are expected.

Panglao, like many beautiful islands, are where the factors I mentioned will conspire to create a tourism boom that will lift local economies. The challenge, of course, is using this tourist income to enhance and preserve the natural elements of our destinations that brought tourists in the first place.

As tourist arrivals increase and income from travelers also rises, factors such as improved infrastructure and new markets have created a new pillar of growth that directly translates to jobs and income for locals, one which we never thought we would have.

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