MANILA, Philippines — Saying he is “nakgwanjeokin”, or bullish on the Philippines’ new tourism brand “It’s more fun in the Philippines,” a top official of the South Korean Embassy in Taguig City has expressed optimism that from over 925,000 in 2011, the number of Korean tourists to the country will break the one million-mark this year.
Hwang Seong Un, the embassy’s counselor for culture and public relations, projected “there would be over a million Korean visitors in the Philippines this year given the aggressive campaign that the Department of Tourism has recently launched.”
“Yes, it will break the one million-mark,” Hwang, also director of the Korean Cultural Center, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Last year, South Koreans topped the list of foreign tourists to the Philippines, followed by Japan and the United States, according to the Department of Tourism.
South Korean embassy records showed that a total of 653,310 Koreans traveled to the Philippines in 2007, followed by 611,629 in 2008. The figures went down to 497,936 in 2009, but increased to 740,622 in 2010 and 925,204 in 2011.
In January, Koreans accounted for 102,166, or 24.9 percent of the 411,064 foreign visitors in the country. During the same period in 2011, 92,249 travelers from the north Asian country visited the Philippines.
Hwang described as “positive” the DOT drive, stressing “it highlights the fun-loving nature of Filipinos.”
“It is a good choice for a slogan as actually, Koreans are finding alternative meanings to fun in the Philippines,” said the diplomat.
He pointed out that the Philippine slogan has an equivalent drive in South Korea.
“Our current tourism brand is “Be Inspired,” which could take any form, like Be Inspired with Korean food, Be Inspired with Korean heritage or Be Inspired by Korean shopping. It really depends on the interest of the tourist. Perhaps for many Filipinos, who are very much in tune with Hallyu (or Korean pop culture), it would be good to Be Inspired with Hallyu,” said Hwang.
During the past five years, some 1.44 million Koreans — including 337,268 in 2011 — visited the Philippines.
Hwang said the top come-ons for Korean visitors were “first, the country’s beautiful beaches, then, the people and third, the ease of communication.”
“Beaches in Batangas, among others, are great…The people here are very friendly and no matter who we approach, they are always willing to talk and communicate in ways they know and in ways that would be understood. Their ability to speak English is one of the strongest points of Filipinos,” he also said.
Then, “there’s Cebu, also Boracay as the popular honeymoon destinations for Koreans. But there are still numerous beaches that would appeal to Koreans and other fun-filled activities apart from the beaches. Also Baguio because the weather there is much closer to Korea.”
Hwang said, “The Malacañang Museum is already open to visitors, but perhaps it would be a good idea if the rules and the code of conduct when inside the presidential Palace are properly outlined and promoted.”
“I understand that security will be at risk, but as Malacañang is a building with a rich history, it would be good to introduce this aspect of the colonial Philippines to tourists apart from the ruins of Intramuros. Malacañang, in general, is a very good compound clustered with seats of Manila’s old families apart from government buildings. There are also good restaurants around the area,” he said.
In Seoul, “selected parts of the Blue House (the official residence of the South Korean president) are open to visitors. They have this Cheongwadae Tours which provide sufficient information and a step-by-step procedure for foreigners as to how to go there and tour the place,” said Hwang.
When interviewed, Hwang said it would be a “very good idea to further intensify the Philippine government’s tourism campaign in Korea.”
“Koreans will continue to fly to the Philippines, given that flights between the two countries average 23 per day. Also, the Korean community in the Philippines has settled in quite nicely and the Korean towns around give Korean tourists a sense of belongingness despite in a foreign country,” said Hwang.
However, he said their host government should do something about what he called a “common concern” among Korean tourists — “harassment many Korean visitors suffer in the hands of immigration officials.”
“The embassy has expressed concern over the Bureau of Immigration (BI) watchlist on certain Korean individuals. Since only the names of blacklisted individuals are indicated in the BI order, Koreans with the same names are the blacklisted ones experience unexpected trouble at Philippine airports. That is why, we have asked that the expansion of the information in the same blacklist or watchlist should include not just the names but also the birth dates of the concerned individuals,” he also said.
Hwang said: “There is also this issue involving the Special Study Permit (SSP) which the embassy seeks to be amended, if not entirely abolished.”
“Under the Philippine immigration law, foreigners with temporary visitors’ visas are required to apply for an SSP if they intend to study in the Philippines regardless of the length of stay. Instead, the embassy has requested the expansion of the temporary visitor’s visa to include other purposes, such as education, thereby helping promote Philippine tourism,” he saiid.
Asked if they have other negative comments on their hosts, Hwang said, “it’s not entirely negative but perhaps the big difference on Koreans’ culture of time compared to Filipinos.”
“Koreans, in general, are very strict when it comes to time, which is very important to them. Filipinos, however, are much more laid back with their “Filipino time,” he pointed out.
These “Korean tourist complaints” notwithstanding, Hwang expressed confidence the Philippines would remain a top tourist destination for Kouth Koreans.
In April, the Philippines and South Korea agreed to increase flights between the two countries amid growing demand for travel in the Asia-Pacific region.
The new air services agreement (ASA) was signed after negotiations on April 2-3, said the Civil Aeronautics Board, which said South Korea is one of the 10 “priority countries” that the government wants to have increased connectivity with.
The ASA is in line with the Aquino administration’s liberalization of air rights program. This is seen as key to the government’s target of increasing tourist arrivals to 10 million by 2016 from more than three million in 2010.
Local airlines that fly to South Korea are Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and Zest Air. Korean airlines that fly to the Philippines include Asiana Airlines and Jin Air.