The Philippines has set its sights on Indonesian travelers as part of the country’s efforts to increase its foreign tourist arrivals this year.
Despite the two countries’ geographical proximity, which can be covered by a four-hour flight, the number of Indonesian tourists visiting the Philippines remains relatively low compared to that of other countries such as China, South Korea, the United States and other ASEAN countries, according to the Philippines’ Department of Tourism.
Indonesia ranked 14th in the Philippines’ foreign tourist visits, with 70,819 Indonesians visiting the Southeast Asian neighbor in 2019. The figure was also lower than the 76,000 booked in 2018. In contrast, 261,000 tourists from the Philippines visited Indonesia in 2019, a 20 percent increase from 217,000 in the year before.
Carla Zaldiva, the Philippines Department of Tourism’s market development head for Indonesia, said the Philippines aims to welcome more than 80,000 Indonesian tourists in 2020.
“For this year, we want to be more aggressive in our marketing campaign,” Zaldiva said on Thursday.
To introduce the Philippines to Indonesians, the Department of Tourism and travel agents will participate in Indonesian travel fairs such as the Astindo Travel Fair, which took place from Feb. 21 to 23 in Jakarta.
The growing middle-class segment in Indonesia and its growing desire to travel to nearby countries is seen as a huge potential that the Philippines needs to tap more, Carla said.
The Philippines wants to offer Indonesia its diving tourism outside of what Indonesians can find in their home country. Pilgrimage tourism is also something the Philippines can offer as a Catholic-majority country with many historical churches.
“Because the Catholic population in Indonesia is also one of the highest after the Muslim population, we want to tap a percentage of that [for pilgrimage tourism],” Carla said.
The Philippines is eyeing tourists from the working population, aged 35 to 40, the millennial market and family travelers.
“The reasons why we are promoting in Indonesia are because of its general population and there are a lot of similarities between the two countries. Statistics show that a lot of Indonesians visiting the Philippines are traveling for the first time [abroad],” she added.
“So, I think it is about the shared culture, the ability to communicate easily, the similarity in geography and it is about the feeling of you are still at home while in a different [environment].”
Carla said the biggest challenge of attracting more Indonesian to visit the Philippine was solely the cost of travel. The airfare from Indonesia to the Philippines is higher than from the Philippines to Indonesia.
“We are working on [exploring] discount deals for airfares and whole travel packages.”
The Philippines Department of Tourism is working with airline operators to explore better promotional deals. It is also partnering with online travel agents and travel agent consortiums to come up with affordable vacation packages.
Caecilia Angela, the manager of Indonesian travel agency Sirius Tour, agreed that high travel costs made many Indonesians think twice about visiting the Philippines. Instead, they prefer to travel to cheaper Southeast Asian destinations, such as Bangkok, Singapore or Malaysia, she added.
“[Affordable] airfare is important. The average round-trip ticket to the Philippines currently costs Rp 4 million [US$291.10]. If that was Rp 2.5 million less, I’m sure a lot more Indonesians would be visiting the Philippines.”
The connectivity between Indonesia and the Philippines has been improving in recent years. with several direct flights connecting the countries, including Manila-Jakarta, Denpasar-Manila, Denpasar-Cebu and Manado-Davao, served by flag carriers Garuda Indonesia and Philippines Airlines.
The latter will launch a Manado-Davao route on May 17, with three flights a week on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
“Basically, this aims to drive tourism and business between the two countries and also connect the southern Philippines and eastern Indonesia,” said Philippine Airlines area manager for Indonesia, Bryan Sansolis.