New immigration rules could imperil DOT tourists targets

Posted at 06/23/14 9:14 AM

MANILA - The new rules of the Bureau of Immigration (BI) on filling out disembarkation cards could result in lower visitor arrivals for the Department of Tourism (DOT), thus, imperiling its annual visitors targets.

Under the new BI rules instituted in March, Filipinos are no longer required to fill up disembarkation cards upon arriving in the Philippines. But foreigners, including Philippine passport holders permanently residing abroad, or those with immigrant status in their host countries, still have to fill out the arrival cards.

DOT sources said the “initial data” they received indicated lower visitor arrivals. It should be noted that in the past, DOT's foreign visitor arrivals reports were never the same as BI’s own foreign tourists data as the latter simply computed this based on information gathered from the disembarkation cards filled out by foreign passport holders.

The DOT has been missing its annual foreign visitors targets for the past two years, as tourists were discouraged by political skirmishes in the south; foreign diplomacy issues with China, Hong Kong and Taiwan; as well as natural calamities like an earthquake and super typhoon which ravaged the Visayas region.

The DOT aims to attract some 10 million foreign visitors by 2016, when President Aquino steps down from office.

The new immigration cards procedure has extremely delayed the visitor arrivals report of the DOT, as its statistics people scrambled to reconcile the new data with the old. The last DOT report covered the month of February.

In an interview, Tourism Assistant Secretary for Tourism Development Planning Roland Canizal said, “there was just a delay in retrieval,” of the BI arrivals data, which are based on the disembarkation cards filled out by passengers arriving by plane.

“We have to assess the impact of such changes on our accounting of foreign tourists’ arrival. But we will soon release the figures on international arrivals within this month,” he said. The new DOT arrivals data would cover the months of March and April.

He explained that “we have to come up with a new system to account [for the Philippine passport holders residing abroad]. It takes time.”

Other sources, noted however, because of these new BI immigration cards rules, the visitor arrivals figures could trend lower. “In the previous set-up, Filipinos who are holders of Philippine passports but who have been living abroad for a long time were being counted as foreign tourists,” said one DOT official who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak on the matter.

“This new process has created some impact on accounting the tourists arriving in the country,” the same DOT official said.

Foreign visitor arrivals in the first two months of 2014 grew a measly 3.5 percent to 884,014, according to DOT data.

This growth in visitor arrivals for January-February 2014, is by far the slowest since the 8.83-percent growth in 2010. In the first two months of 2013, for instance, visitor arrivals increased by 10.5 percent; in 2012, it was 15.61 percent; in 2011, it was 17.88 percent.

For the month of February alone, DOT data showed a 3.43-percent dip in arrivals of Philippine passport holders permanently residing abroad (excluding overseas Filipino workers) to 27,203 arrivals.

In the same month, foreign tourists arrival posted a flat growth of 1.08 percent to 422,631.

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