MANILA, November 10, 2003 (STAR) Following a downtrend in tourism arrivals early this year due to the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the number of international visitors is steadily on the rise as we reach the final stretch of 2003.

Department of Tourism figures show that since September, the month-on-month growth rate of tourism arrivals has hit positive figures but did not release absolute figures.

A +2.5 percent increase in September, +9 percent in October, and +9.5 percent to date in November signal the effectiveness of the aggressive tourism recovery and marketing program of the DOT.

"The SARS outbreak was a terrible, but not insurmountable blow to the Asian tourism industry in general," Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon said.

"Together with health and other officials, we worked hard to contain the epidemic here in the Philippines, and we were successful to the point that our country was spared from the devastating effects suffered by our neighbors, whose tourism arrivals dropped to as low as -70 percent month-on-month, whereas we were able to halt the downtrend at -32 percent and thereafter steadily forged upward," he explained.

"What is important is to avoid the stigmatization of our country and our region and to restore confidence in us as a tourism destination so that tourists will keep on coming," Gordon pointed out.

With the launch of the DOT’s Volunteer 12 Program, a cash incentive-based promotions tool harnessing the participation of all Filipino citizens worldwide, the future looks bright for Philippine tourism. Cash prizes will be given to Filipinos and local government units of provinces, cities, and municipalities who can recruit the most number of tourists.

"We could have spent money on advertising in international media, but our resources are limited and we won’t even be able to scratch the surface of our markets," Gordon explained. Hence the tapping of the country’s best resource – its people. "Our money will be better spent if we reward it to our own people who can be infinitely more effective than an international advertising campaign," he continued.

"Foreign tourists might have apprehensions about going to certain places, but if they are invited and assured by a friend that the place is beautiful and safe, they will go, and so much more if that friend or his family will be there to welcome and entertain," Gordon said.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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