MANILA, April 11, 2005 
(STAR) By Mayen Jaymalin - Despite the United States’ advisory against traveling to the Philippines, American tourists continue to visit the country.

The Department of Tourism (DOT) reported yesterday that the number of Americans going to the Philippines nearly doubled during the first two months of the year.

"More American tourists arrive in the country notwithstanding the travel warnings of their government," Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano said.

He cited DOT data showing that the US remains the country’s leading market, with a total of 89,257 American visitors from January to February this year. This figure was way above the 47,659 Americans who visited the country during the same period last year.

A total of 420,376 foreign tourists visited the Philippines in the first two months of this year, 13 percent higher than the 384,859 tourists recorded during the same period in 2004.

Based on the current trend, Durano expressed confidence that the Philippines will surpass its target of 2.5 million tourists this year.

He noted that the government has launched various programs and adopted a cheaper "tour package" to attract more foreign tourists.

Target: Eastern Europe

Meanwhile, Philippine Tourism Authority general manager Robert Dean Barbers said the Philippine tourism industry may set its sights on Eastern Europe after lawmakers from Russia, Latvia and other Eastern European countries said they were impressed by the country’s tourist attractions and the security measures offered to foreign tourists.

"There is great potential in the lucrative Eastern European market for tourists and travelers to come to our country and make it a favorite destination in Asia. This would likewise spur bilateral trade relations and business investments in the near future," he said.

Russian senator Valentina Petrenko, who bought pearls from Muslim traders at the Greenhills Shopping Center in San Juan town, Metro Manila during a break in the recently concluded Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) assembly, said she was impressed by the brilliant craftsmanship of the pearls and added this may induce her fellow Russians to come to the Philippines and buy pearls for themselves.

It was reported that during the last two days of the assembly, IPU delegates frequented the shopping center to buy pearls and souvenirs to give as gifts when they return to their respective countries.

Latvian parliamentarian Ingrida Udre said she sees the Philippines may soon become the favorite destination of tourists from her country and European Union member countries.

Udre and National Association of Independent Travel Agencies chairman Robert Lim Joseph are discussing ways to develop tourist and trade relations between the two countries.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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