To attract more tourism to the Philippines, according to officials from the GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corporation (GMCAC), the private operator of the Mactan Cebu International Airport (MCIA), the government should consider making changes to its current visa policies. Official representatives for the GMCAC have been actively trying to bring in more airlines and tourists to Cebu and nearby areas.
The GMAC chief executive advisor, Andrew Harrison, argued that tourists prefer to go to destinations where it is easier to obtain a visa to enter the territory. During the GMCAC Coffee Rings last Friday, Harrison said, "The choice of tourists is based on ease of travel. Many countries have introduced these (e-visa and visa on arrival). If we truly want to compete with the likes of Thailand, Bali, and others, this is a strategy that is a must for the country." Electronic visa systems and visas on arrival ease the process of obtaining a visa and make it simpler for citizens of many nationalities to travel. Some countries in South East Asia with simplified visa systems include Cambodia and Thailand. The latter recently launched an online visa on arrival application system for citizens of 21 countries can register online to get this visa type.
New Visa Policies for the Philippines are necessary to attract tourism
Cebu opened the MCIA Terminal 2 last July and the airport has been receiving more tourist arrivals since then. From July to November, GMCAC reported a total of 1.7 million arrivals at the new terminal, which is solely dedicated to receiving international flights. Meanwhile, the GMCAC has been aggressively promoting and doing caravans abroad to bring in more airlines and open new routes to the Philippines from Cebu.
Aines Librodo, the head for Airlines Marketing and Tourism Development of the GMCAC, pointed out that foreign visitors are having a hard time entering the Philippines through Cebu Airport. Librodo said, "One of the challenges is that it's quite difficult for these tourists to get to the country due to visa restrictions. We have been talking to the government, showing them statistics, and what other ASEAN countries are doing in terms of relaxing requirements for entry," she said.
GMCAC officials are pushing for new visa policies for the Philippines, including creating an electronic visa system or implementing a visa on arrival mechanism to make it easier for tourists to visit the country. A visa on arrival allows foreign travelers to apply for the visa when they arrive in the country. Tourists simply need to queue at a visa counter, complete the application and pay the respective fees. An electronic visa is even simpler, it allows a person to apply online for a visa. To get an e-visa most travelers need a valid passport, an email and a debit or credit card.
One of the biggest markets for Cebu is China, Korea, and Japan. Librodo said that a visa on arrival or an e-visa for the Philippines would draw in more visitors from these three countries. However, pushing for these mechanisms has not been easy. Librodo also said that they have been talking with different government agencies, including the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Bureau of Immigration (which is under the Department of Justice) and the Department of Tourism. "We have just started talking to them. It’s not that easy. So many agencies have to be involved. We want the three departments to sit down and discuss and to align what we can do,” she said.
Implementing a new visa system is no easy task, especially considering that high-level offices need to be able to discuss the issue as one and agree on the action plan. Librodo assures that they will continue to push for these mechanisms to be put in place. Furthermore, they will continue to gather data and statistics to provide the government and persuade them to take action.