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Infrastructure Stunts Philippine Tourist Potential — Durano
Philippine Tourism Secretary
Ace Durano

The Philippines would fail to meet its goal of attracting five million foreign tourists a year by 2010 due to poor transport links, the country's tourism czar said.

"The way the capacity is expanding, we feel that five million foreign tourists will not be achieved," Tourism Secretary Joseph "Ace" Durano told Reuters in an interview.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo wants to significantly boost the Philippine tourist trade by the time she leaves office in 2010 but, despite pristine beaches and an English-speaking population, the tropical archipelago remains a bit player in the holiday market.

Muslim and communist insurgencies as well as political instability have historically put visitors off visiting the Southeast Asian country but an underdeveloped leisure sector and poor infrastructure are arguably bigger drawbacks.

Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Thailand has remained a top tourist draw despite SARS, bird flu, a military coup and a Muslim insurgency in the south and expects to draw 15.7 million foreign tourists this year, up 8.3 percent from last year.

Durano said he was frustrated that the lack of road links and suitable airports prevented the Philippines, which has more than 7,000 islands, from taking off as a major tourism player.

"Our existing destinations are more than the number of destinations that our competitors can offer, but we have to build up our capacity," he said.

"I am impatient at the same time because I see the potential of the country."

"We can be the Spain of Asia."

Earlier this year, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said that the Philippines did not comply with international safety standards and, across the country, underfunded airports were straining to deal with more travelers.

A new terminal for Manila's international airport, originally set to open in late 2002, remains mothballed due to a legal dispute. It was designed to handle 13 million passengers a year.

Despite capacity constraints and a shaky global economy, the Philippines is still aiming to increase tourist arrivals by 13 percent this year, aided by South Koreans wishing to learn English and newly minted Chinese seeking warmer climes.

"We are targeting 3.5 million tourists," Durano said. "We will get four million tourists by 2010."

"We are doing this by pushing for higher-value tourism services like ESL (English as a Second Language), wellness, medical tourism and shopping."

Last year was a record for Philippine tourism with nearly 3.1 million arrivals, translating to $4.8 billion in receipts, nearly meeting the $5.0 billion in receipts Arroyo had envisaged from five million visitors by 2010.

The main foreign market in 2007 was South Korea, accounting for around 21 percent of arrivals. Koreans come to the Philippines to learn English and often tour the country while doing so.

Durano said that, under the government's medium-term development plan, the country aims to spend P66.5 billion ($1.5 billion) on airports, seaports, railways and roads in the central Philippines, where the popular resort island of Boracay is located.

Currently, overseas visitors departing Boracay swelter in a tiny departure lounge without air conditioning.

Durano said the government would bid out this year the Caticlan airport, which handles most of the Boracay traffic, to private investors.






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