By Alito L. Malinao
MANILA, Sept. 18 (Xinhua) -- Foreign tourist arrivals in the Philippines are expected to reach 4.5 million this year, or 18 percent more than that of last year, according to Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez, Jr.
Jimenez, who is credited for crafting the country's catchy tourism slogan, "It's more fun in the Philippines," said that there is "a good chance" that the 18 percent growth in tourism this year can be achieved because of the encouraging growth in the first semester of this year.
Data from the Department of Tourism (DoT) showed that foreigners who visited the Philippines in the first half totaled 2. 14 million, up by 11.68 percent from close to 1.92 million in the same period in 2011. In 2011, foreign tourist arrivals in the Philippines totaled 3.917 million.
"The second semester is actually the peak season for tourism. We are well on our way to hitting 4.5 million tourist arrivals," Jimenez told an economic briefing by the government's economic team last week.
In the first semester of the year, Jimenez said that the country's visitor arrivals grew 11.68 percent to 2.143 million.
The biggest volume of arrivals was registered in January at 411, 064 and the highest growth rate of 17.54 percent.
At end-June, South Korea's inbound traffic topped the country' s list of tourist arrivals, registering 474,684 visitors, equivalent to 22.15 percent of the total foreign visitors during the period.
The country's second largest foreign visitors were from the U. S. with 354,259 arrivals, or 16.53 percent of the total as of June.
Third were Japanese at 195,504 tourists, or 9.12 percent of the country's total arrivals, followed by the Chinese with 150,749, or 7.03 percent.
Other major contributors to the country's tourist arrivals were Australia (92,648), Singapore (73,015), Canada (65,503), China's Hong Kong (57,790) and UK (57,181).
But while tourist arrivals in the Philippines are on the rise, they are still minuscule compared with those of its neighbors in Southeast Asia.
For example, Malaysian Tourism Minister Dato Sri Dr. Ng Yen Yen has recently announced that Malaysia welcomed 11,632,483 tourist arrivals for the first six months of 2012, registering a growth of 2.4 percent compared to 11,362,862 arrivals for the same period last year.
According to the Malaysian Tourism Ministry, the ASEAN region continued to be the largest contributor of tourist arrivals with 73.8 percent share of the total arrivals.
The top ten markets of the Malaysian tourism industry were Singapore, Indonesia, China, Thailand, Brunei, India, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, and the United Kingdom. These countries accounted for almost 90 percent of the total tourist arrivals in Malaysia.
It is quite surprising that while Malaysian tourist arrivals do not even appear in the DoT statistics, Philippines has recorded the highest growth of 45.3 percent in tourist arrivals in Malaysia year-on-year followed by China with 34.2 percent, Japan with 32.5 percent, Indonesia with 20.0 percent, India with 6.9 percent and United Kingdom with 5.9 percent.
Minister Dato Seri Ng Yen Yen attributed Malaysia's appeal and growth in arrivals to the strong support from trade partners and the increased air connectivity to several key destinations such as Beijing, Hong Kong and Kansai.
From Bangkok, reports say that tourism in Thailand has recovered, with international tourist arrivals to the country during the first eight months of 2012 increasing by 8.66 percent year-on-year to 14.3 million.
According to the Thai Tourism Department, this growth momentum in tourism will continue until the end of 2012.
Last month alone, arrivals rose by 11.5 percent year-on-year to 1.92 million on the back of growth from the Middle East, 51.39 percent; Oceania, 26.13 percent; South Asia, 21 percent; Africa, 17 percent; East Asia, 11.74 percent; the Americas, 9.31 percent; and Europe, 0.05 percent.
In Indonesia, Tourism and Creative Economy Mari Elka Pangestu said the number of foreign visitors to Indonesia for the first semester of this year has shown a positive growth of 7.75 percent, which is higher than the global growth of 5 percent, and close to the average tourism growth in the Asia Pacific of 8 percent.
This brings to a total 3.87 million tourists to the country in the past 6 months, with main source markets being Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, China, and Japan.
Tourists from Great Britain registered a growth of 4.5 percent, with a 6.7 percent increase in German tourists, while the number of Americans to Indonesia was up with 9.9 percent, which means that despite the crisis, tourists from these countries continue to travel.
Minister Mari Pangestu is confident that Indonesia will be able to meet its target of 8 million tourist arrivals this year.