Southeast Asia tourism grew larger than any other region during year’s first quarter, despite closures

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PH tourism to focus more on opportunities for women

The Southeast Asian region saw a 10 percent increase in the number of tourists during the first quarter of 2018, according to a recent report by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

The increase topped the six percent international average, giving the tropical and subtropical region the largest increase of any region in the world within the four month period.

Seeing the largest increase in arrival numbers was Vietnam, which experienced a 25.2 percent tourism growth during the time period.

Countries like Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines also saw double-digit increases.

The growth came despite the fact that countries like Thailand and the Philippines closed off popular tourist sites due to environmental concerns.

Thailand’s Maya Bay, made popular by the Leonardo DiCaprio-starring film “The Beach,” remains closed through September.

The Philippines’ Boracay — which Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said had turned into a “cesspool” — was ordered to remain closed for six months after tourists were banned late April.

From its own tourism data, the Philippine Department of Tourism (DOT) also saw an increase.

DOT spokesperson Bong Bengzon told hotel owners and marketers last week that the Philippines saw a 10.24 percent increase in foreign arrivals from January to May despite the Boracay closure.

“Despite the closure of Boracay in late April, foreign visitor arrivals in May still grew month-on-month. Total arrivals in May 2018 reached 537,743, representing a growth rate of 0.94 percent,” said Bengzon, as quoted by Rappler.

Much of the growth was due to arrivals from China, which grew 43.81 percent. From January to May 2018, China provided 559,289 visitors. During the same period in 2017, the country provided 388,896 Chinese national visitors.

Aside from China, South Korea and U.S. nationals continuously make up most of the Philippines’ foreign tourist arrivals — South Korea being the top source.

The increases seen add to the continuing trend of booming tourism in the region. According to the Economist, tourism in Southeast Asia jumped 49 percent between 2010 and 2015.

Last year, the region took in over $131.1 billion in tourist receipts.

Comparing overall growth from 2016 to 2017, the Philippines reported a growth of 10.96 percent. Its 6.6 million tourists last year was regarded a “milestone” high.

Women-empowering tourism in PH

Philippine DOT undersecretary Alma Rita Jimenez recently told the Philippine government’s news service that the department has been working on providing more opportunities for women in its tourism driving efforts. She said the department has already rolled out different training and capacity building programs.

“We train them for tour guiding and doing the gastronomy tourism. Some women who have their own home facilities, we train them in terms of front office management and managing small business,” Jimenez told the Philippine News Agency, which published the interview Tuesday, July 10.

Describing tourism in the country as being “very dependent” on micro enterprises, she added that most of the training was focused on community-based empowerment where players are usually women.

Providing opportunities for women, she said, was not about giving them privileges, but about laying out an equal platform on which they can succeed.

“If the women are equally competent, they should have all the chances of being able to play in whatever field they would want and become successful in it,” said Jimenez.

She added, “We want to focus on those with lower economic status. Sometimes they think they are helpless, [since they are] expected and got used to staying at home and taking care of the children. If you would think about it, they’re more than capable of contributing beyond taking care of the children.”

The efforts are part of the departments’ bid to make the tourism industry gender and community empowered.

“Sustainable tourism development that is gender and development empowered, accessible, and barrier-free is the way to go if we want the industry to remain robust and inclusive,” said Jimenez.

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