PHILIPPINES - President Benigno Aquino III on Friday challenged the travel industry "to go the extra mile to make tourists the happiest visitors to the Philippines."
Speaking before guests and participants of the 21st Travel Tour Expo, Mr. Aquino expressed elation over reports that despite back-to-back disasters last year, tourist arrivals grew by about 10 per cent.
But the country should do more in terms of attracting foreign travelers, he added.
"We cannot be satisfied with what we have achieved so far. The goal now is not merely to maintain our growth, but to cement our position as one of the world's vacation hot spots," the President said, adding that tourism was a "low-lying fruit that could help grow the economy."
With the Department of Tourism's aggressive campaign, the Chief Executive said efforts to meet the target of 56.1 million domestic tourists for 2016 would be a walk in the park.
The President, however, challenged tourism stakeholders "to go beyond what (they) have already done."
"It is not just about sustaining the appeal of already favoured destinations; it is also about discovering and marketing hidden destinations. It is not just about getting tourists to visit the Philippines once, but getting them to return," he said.
"Thus, I pose a question to all of you today: Have we, as a nation, gone the extra mile to make our tourists the happiest visitors to the Philippines-the most fun place on earth?" the President asked.
Mr. Aquino said recently-implemented reforms in civil aviation, among them liberalizing airspace through the Pocket Open Skies Policy and rationalizing taxes on foreign carriers, were part of his administration's efforts to ensure that visitors find their travels "smooth and worry-free."
He said the government continues to make massive investments in infrastructure-from the construction and rehabilitation of roads leading to tourism clusters, to upgrading airports and ports in key areas.
The President defined business success as "(balancing) profit with customer satisfaction," and said that the collective goal should go beyond making sales and booking trips.
"What we want is for both domestic and international tourists to become advocates of the Philippines-visitors who will return again and again to explore every corner, every peak, every shoreline of our archipelago, and encourage their friends and family to do the same," he said.
Mr. Aquino said his administration remained on track to meeting and even exceeding its targets.
The DOT has already surpassed its initial target of 35.5 million domestic travelers five years ahead of schedule, with 37.5 million travelers in 2011 alone, he said.
"Now, (Tourism) Secretary Mon Jimenez has the fun task of meeting, or better yet, surpassing our new 2016 target of just 56.1 million domestic travelers," the President said.
In 2012, the country reached another milestone by surpassing the four-million international arrival mark.
In 2013, despite the calamities that befell the country, the figure grew by 10 per cent (or 4.7 million) international arrivals, Mr. Aquino said, adding that "international tourists have (also) been spending more money on their visits here-with average daily expenditures among them increasing by 8.7 per cent."
The President said the "attitude and the passion" of tour guides best illustrated the large role that local communities must fulfil in growing tourism destinations in the country.
"It is of utmost importance that-like the community in Puerto Princesa-(tourism stakeholders) are involved not merely in maximizing the benefits of their assets, but also in preserving them," Mr. Aquino said.
The Travel Expo is targeting 4,000 to 8,000 more visitors this year and projecting an income of P600 million (S$16.9 million), 64 per cent higher than last year's tourism income.
According to the President, the Philippines is making a transition to become one of the best places to visit in the world.
The country has been cited as one of top 10 destinations by Rough Guides in 2014, one of 46 places to go by The New York Times in 2013, the Best Tropical Island Destination by the Shanghai Morning Post in 2013, and the Most Romantic Destination by the same publication in 2012.