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16 travel agencies divert tourists to RP
First posted 02:29am (Mla time) Jan 06, 2005
By
Inquirer

At least 16 travel agencies in Japan have diverted to the Philippines dozens of tourists originally bound for the Maldives, while a Filipino travel website doubled its average daily hits following the Dec. 26 tsunamis that devastated popular resorts and beaches in the Indian Ocean.

Earlier, the Department of Tourism (DoT) alerted its regional and overseas offices and attached agencies to boost promotional efforts in order to draw foreign tourists and travel agencies wanting to rechannel bookings from the stricken Asian countries.

Some quarters have labeled the DoT move as opportunism and greed, even “vulture tourism,” but private industry leaders said it was merely the result of business competition.

“I don’t care if we’re accused of taking advantage of others’ tragic loss,” said Melo Villareal, webmaster of www.lakbaypilipinas.com. “In our case, we’re just telling them plainly that we have alternative destinations here, and that what other countries have, the Philippines also has.”

Philippine Tour Operators Association (Philtoa) president Leo Picaso told the Inquirer of his hope that the diversions from Maldives would be followed by others.

He said that flights of foreign tourists originally destined for the tsunami-affected tourist spots had been diverted to Cebu starting on Dec. 28, and that Russian travelers wanting to avoid the stricken areas were considering the Philippines as an alternative.

Picaso said Philtoa was collating information from its members to determine exactly how many future bookings to the Philippines had been originally posted for the devastated areas in Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.

He said many of the bookings were made for the future because most of the Philippine resorts were full, December and January being the peak-season months.

Daily hits doubled
In a phone interview, Villareal said the average number of daily hits of lakbaypilipinas.com had doubled to 150,000-180,000.

“There was renewed interest in Philippine destinations as many viewers searched for alternative places to go for their next vacation,” he said.

The site features destination options as well as facilities for on-line bookings and reservations at popular Philippine tourist spots.

The Philtoa’s Picaso said his main worry was that the Philippines would be lumped with other Asian countries affected by the tsunamis.

“While we sympathize with those affected by the tragedy, we have to be ready to aid foreign tourists who want to come to the Philippines to spend their next vacation,” he said.

Both Picaso and Villareal said it was but natural for local tourism leaders to push Philippine destinations in view of last year’s negative international publicity on security problems, political instability, terror attacks and natural calamities.

They said the tourism industry had also suffered because of negative news on coup rumors, the heated presidential election, the bombing of the SuperFerry, the continuing kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf, the avian flu scare and destructive typhoons that took place in 2003.

Villareal said the tsunami-affected Asian countries just happened to be the Philippines’ neighbor-competitors.

According to Villareal, the current challenge to the Philippine tourism industry is to meet the anticipated increase in demand.

He said the renewed interest in Philippine tourist spots would, in the long run, attract and generate investments and create jobs.

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