Philippines targets record tourist numbers in 2019

A view of Crystal Cove, a small island that attracts tourists island-hopping near Boracay. (Shutterstock)
Updated 12 February 2019

Philippines targets record tourist numbers in 2019

  • Manila Bay is known for its world-famous sunsets, but over the years it has become one of Asia’s most polluted bays
  • The Department of Tourism is aiming for 8.2 million tourists this year

MANILA: The Philippine Department of Tourism has vowed to break the 2018 record for the number of foreign tourists visiting the country.

The Philippines welcomed 7,127,168 foreign visitors last year, and the department said it is aiming for 8.2 million this year. 

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Puyat said the target is achievable because last year’s milestone occurred despite the closure of the country’s flagship destination and the department’s change of leadership.

“In creating a culture of sustainable tourism, we have had some challenges in instilling a paradigm shift in our popular spots where unsustainable practices have become the normal, day-to-day operations,” she told Arab News.

“But thankfully,” the rehabilitation of Boracay island “started a national movement to be more conscious of our environment,” she said.

This has inspired and empowered local communities to make their respective destinations cleaner and more sustainable, while the government focuses on preserving the biodiversity and capacity of tourist attractions, Puyat added. “This always equates to a better experience for our tourists,” she said.

Asked how the Department of Tourism plans to sustain growth, Puyat said: “We will go heavy in our marketing and promotions to sustain the growth of our key markets, while increasing awareness about our country’s beautiful destinations in emerging markets.”

This year, the department is hosting two major aviation events, Routes Asia and CAPA Asia Aviation, to explore new routes and development opportunities for smoother and faster travel to and from the country. 

This, Puyat said, is part of efforts to boost the Philippines’ bid to become an Asian aviation hub.

These upcoming events will showcase the newly developed Mactan-Cebu International Airport, and will bolster the country’s international networks and local tourism, she added. “It’s all systems go for these two major aviation events,” she said.

Through both events, the Philippine aviation industry looks forward to further capacity and infrastructure enhancements in the coming years, added Puyat.

Earlier this year, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources led government efforts to rehabilitate Manila Bay, similar to what was done in Boracay.

Manila Bay is known for its world-famous sunsets, but over the years it has become one of Asia’s most polluted bays. Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu described it as a “magnified cesspool.”

To restore the bay’s pristine condition, the government in January launched a massive cleanup operation. 

Asked if the rehabilitation will help attract more visitors, Puyat said: “In fact it already is.” She added: “For the longest time, the bay’s beach area was filled with garbage. Now you can find quite a number of tourists.”

US women detained for speaking Spanish sue border agency

In this Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, photo provided by the ACLU of Montana, Martha Hernandez, left, and Ana Suda pose in front of a convenience store in Havre, Mont., where they say they were detained by a U.S Border Patrol agent for speaking Spanish last year. (AP)
Updated 42 min 14 sec ago

US women detained for speaking Spanish sue border agency

  • The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed suit against US Customs and Border Protection on behalf of the women, who live in Havre

LOS ANGELES: Two US women detained by a border patrol agent in the state of Montana after he heard them speaking Spanish in a grocery store have sued the country’s border protection agency.
Video of the incident — which took place last May in the small town of Havre — showed Agent Paul O’Neal tell Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez that he had asked to see their identification as it was unusual to hear Spanish speakers in the state, which borders Canada.
“It has to do with you guys speaking Spanish in the store in a state where it’s predominately English speaking,” he said.
“It’s not illegal, it’s just very unheard of up here,” he told the women.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed suit against US Customs and Border Protection on behalf of the women, who live in Havre.
Suda and Hernandez say in the lawsuit that O’Neal detained them for 40 minutes.
California native Hernandez and Suda, who was born in Texas, said they were standing in line to buy milk and eggs when the agent — who was standing behind them — commented on Hernandez’s accent, and asked the women where they were born.
“I asked, ‘Are you serious’?” Suda said, according to the lawsuit. “Agent O’Neal responded that he was ‘dead serious’.”
The two women say they were then asked to show identification and questioned outside the store, before eventually being released.
“The incident itself is part of a broader pattern that we’ve seen of abusive tactics by border patrol which has gotten worse since the Trump administration, which has left border patrol officers feeling emboldened to take actions like this,” Cody Wofsy, an attorney with the ACLU, told AFP.
“This has been devastating for (Suda and Hernandez),” he added.
“Havre is a small town, they felt ostracized and humiliated and made to feel unwelcome in their own town and in their own country.”
He noted the United States has no official language, with Spanish by far the most common language spoken after English.
A Customs and Border Protection spokesman declined to comment on the case.
“As a matter of policy, US Customs and Border Protection does not comment on pending litigation,” he told AFP in a statement. “However, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations.”