(STAR) By Helen Flores - International tourism receipts are expected to hit $4 billion this year with the influx of more long-staying and high-spending travelers in the country, the Department of Tourism (DOT) said.

Speaking with reporters at the Manila Overseas Press Club’s “Tourism Night” at the InterContinental Hotel in Makati City last Monday, Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano expressed optimism that the DOT will achieve its target of 3.1 million foreign arrivals this year despite the recent Glorietta 2 explosion that left 11 people dead and over a hundred injured.

In 2006, international tourism receipts from 2.84 million visitors to the Philippines totaled $2.7 billion or about P135 billion.

“Visitor arrivals substantially increased last year and we need to sustain the same performance to hit, if not surpass, our 2007 target for the remaining months of the year,” Durano said, adding that the DOT has endorsed a total of P160 million new investments this year comprised mostly of resort and hotel developments.

Durano noted that visitor receipts grew at an average of 32.67 percent for the last three years, which can be attributed to more long-staying and high-spending visitors in the country, like Europeans.

Durano said as of August 2007, the top 10 European visitors in the Philippines came from the United Kingdom (50,552); Germany (37,151); France (12,678); The Netherlands (11,544); Switzerland (11,160); Italy (9,494); Russia and Commonwealth of Independent States (8,418); Norway (8,308); Denmark (7, 976) and Sweden (7,687).

Durano added that more tourists from Russia are likely to visit the country with the implementation of visa-free entry to the Philippines starting this month.

Under the new policy, Russian nationals visiting the Philippines for 21 days or less for business or tourism purposes can enter the country without visas, provided that they hold valid tickets for their return journey to their port of origin or next port of destination and that their passports are valid for the next six months.

Those who wish to stay in the country for more than 21 days would have to secure temporary visitors visa from the Bureau of Immigration.

Durano also said Russia’s largest airline, Vladavia Air Company, recently started regular weekly charter flights with a 150-seater TU-154 aircraft to Manila from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the major gateway in Far East Russia, to accommodate tourists to the Philippines.

Aside from Russians, a surge of Chinese and Indian visitors is also expected following their removal from the list of foreigners who are considered “high risk” or restricted by government.

Their removal from the list would allow them to be granted visas for up to six months’ stay in the country – unlike before where they were only allowed to stay here for a month.

Currently, Chinese and Indian tour groups are covered by the government’s visa-upon-arrival policy, which it plans to implement for all foreign visitors to further boost tourism. – with Mayen Jaymalin, Edu Punay

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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