Philippines-Japan relations

Philippine pitch to Japanese tourists: Learn English, swim with whale sharks

Lance Spencer Yu

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Philippine pitch to Japanese tourists: Learn English, swim with whale sharks

PARTNERS. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the Prime Minister's official residence during his arrival in Tokyo, Japan on February 9, 2023.

Yoshikazu Tsuno/Pool/Reuters

The Philippines is hoping its edge as an educational tourism and diving destination can lure back hundreds of thousands of Japanese visitors

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines is hoping to woo hundreds of thousands of Japanese visitors back to the country with promises that range from learning English to tropical diving.

After previously striking up tourism agreements with China during a state visit, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. now hopes that his recent working visit in Japan can help restore Japanese tourism to the country to pre-pandemic levels.

“As a country that recognizes the linkage of our success to that of our neighbors such as Japan, working together in boosting one’s tourism sector is vital to economic resurgence,” the President said on February 9 during a roundtable with Japanese tourism stakeholders and Philippine government officials.

Marcos has stressed the importance of tourism in the country’s economic recovery, noting that the tourism industry contributed 12.9% to the Philippine gross domestic product before the pandemic.

Japan was the Philippine’s fourth biggest international tourism market before the pandemic, with visitor arrivals reaching 682,788 in 2019. Currently, the Philippines is still far away from returning to this level, logging only 99,557 tourists from Japan in 2022.

ESL provider

So how does the government plan to bring back Japanese visitors? Marcos has highlighted educational tourism as among the biggest draws.

“Filipinos are known to be the citizens of the world. Filipinos have a fluency in English that is recognized to be one of our main leverages, one of our main selling points in terms of the educational tourism. It makes it easy for us to work and communicate in other countries. And where else can you better learn English than in the Philippines?” the President said.

The Philippines has traditionally been a popular provider of English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, given the country’s high rate of English literacy. In fact, the Philippines was considered the world’s fifth-largest ESL provider prior to the pandemic, according to former tourism secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat.

Incumbent Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco is also keen on leveraging the Philippine reputation as an ESL provider. 

“Over the years, the Japanese tourists have come to the Philippines for various reasons,” Frasco said on February 9. “The Philippines has also gained popularity as a preferred education tourism destination for learning English and school trips.”

Currently, the Philippines ranks as Japan’s fourth preferred destination for educational tourism, according to Frasco. The tourism secretary said that the Philippines wants to “move up in that ranking for Japan.”

The Department of Tourism also announced intentions to develop more ESL hubs in the country beyond the cities of Baguio and Cebu.

Frasco is also pushing for the Bureau of Immigration to improve the process of securing student permits, including the waiver of exclusion ground. The document is a requirement for alien minors below 15 years old who are traveling to the Philippines without their parents or guardian.

“The effort under the Marcos administration is to ensure that we would make it as seamless as possible for us to entice more students to study in the Philippines and that will entail our coordination with the Bureau of Immigration to be able to relax and liberalize policies in this regard,” Frasco said.

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‘Dive with our thresher sharks’

During the February 9 roundtable, Frasco also mentioned that the country’s “leading tourism products include general leisure and diving.” Japanese tourism stakeholders were similarly positive of the Philippines’ tourism prospects.

Hiroyuki Takahasi, chairperson of Japan Association of Travel Agents, noted that the Philippines’ weather and beaches drew in young tourists and retirees alike.

“The Philippines is very appealing for Japanese people with its hospitality and cheerfulness. Furthermore, the Philippines [has] a mild climate all year, making it a popular destination for younger people to relax at beach resorts like Cebu and Boracay Island. And for retirees, an extended period of time,” he said.

The country’s diving spots have also been a favorite among Japanese tourists according to Masao Okuyama of Marine Creative.

“The Japanese love the Philippine ocean. There are so many reasons for it. As border restriction relaxes, many divers are excited to visit the Philippines again. We would like to send out more information so that more divers will visit the Philippines,” Masao said.

In 2020, Japan-based Marine Diving Magazine named the Philippines as the world’s top international diving destination, particularly citing sites in Cebu, Bohol, Moalboal, and Busuanga. The World Travel Awards also named the Philippines as the world’s leading dive destination in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

Frasco hoped that the diving and leisure activities of the country would be enough to draw back Japanese tourists in 2023.

“So, I invite all of you, our Japanese friends to dive with our thresher sharks, to swim with our whale sharks, to go canyoneering, to play golf, and to feel and see the warmth of the Filipino people,” the tourism secretary said.

In support of this thrust for greater Japanese tourism, Marcos also said that the government will lobby for the “lifting or limiting” of Japan’s travel advisories against certain “key travel destinations” in the Philippines.

“The Philippines and Japan has so much in the pipeline on what we can share and learn with each other. But first and foremost, we note that in order for us to further deepen our nation’s mutual friendship and interest, we must first be open to each other’s people. With this, we are working on lobbying to the Japanese government for the lifting or limiting of its travel advisory against the Philippines’ key travel destinations,” Marcos said during the February 9 roundtable. –

1 comment

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  1. DN

    Generally, Philippines is not ready to welcome tourist who are very particular about sanitation…shopping malls bathroom are still unable to keep toilet paper available which is totally gross and disgusting for visitors of the country…

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Lance Spencer Yu

Lance Spencer Yu is a multimedia reporter who covers the transportation, tourism, infrastructure, finance, agriculture, and corporate sectors, as well as macroeconomic issues.