Philippines gearing up for Muslim tourist boom

0a11a_114MANILA, Philippines – Top tourist destinations like Cebu are advised to gear up for the projected boom in travel by Muslim tourists, on the back of growing affluence of the Muslim middle class.

Department of Tourism (DOT) chief tourism promotions officer Francisco Lardizabal said Cebu should beef up facilities needed by Muslim travelers, which include halal spas, halal restaurants, prayer rooms, among other basic facilities and services. The tourism department is aggressively pushing for tourism in oil-rich Middle East countries.

“Every year, we get more Muslim travelers and we are hoping that Cebu, one of our popular tourism sites, will cooperate and encourage investments to make our country ‘Muslim- and family-friendly destination,’” he said.

New markets

He said the new geographic markets for DOT now include Russia, India, the Middle East, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Lardizabal said the upcoming Asean integration next year should also push tourism stakeholders to gear up for halal tourism products with Southeast Asia being the home to significant Muslim population.

According to the 2012 statistics from the World Travel and Tourism Council, Muslim tourists spend about $137 billion on travel, about 12.5 percent of the global tourism spending. The council also sees growth potential with the growing affluence of a Muslim middle class.

The Philippines logged 80,000 visitors from the Gulf last year, up by 15 percent from 2012. It aims to increase arrivals to 20 percent this year by aggressively stepping up its marketing efforts and improve air connectivity by providing more seats, additional frequencies and more destinations, a report said.

Recently, low cost carrier Cebu Pacific Air announced it will be flying to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia starting Oct. 1. The airline now has expanded its network in the Middle East to include Damman, Kuwait and Dubai.

“It shouldn’t be difficult for us to deal with the Muslim tourists because, for one, we have a strong Muslim population in our country. What we should work further though, is understand and learn more their culture,” said Lardizabal.

The Philippines logged 2,433,428 international visitors in the first half of 2014, up by 2.22 percent compared to the same period in 2013 with registered arrivals of 2,380,593, the DOT records show.

South Korea continued to be the top contributor of international visitors with 547,971 arrivals while the USA supplied the second largest influx of arrivals with 389,432 visitors.

The Chinese market gave significant boost to the industry providing a total 226,163, followed by Japan with 220,366 visitors and Australia with 111,687 arrivals.

Rounding up the top ten visitor markets are Singapore with 91,692 arrivals, Canada (75,677 arrivals), United Kingdom (68,593 arrivals), Taiwan (67,213 arrivals) and Malaysia (66,796 arrivals).