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Tourism Secretary Alberto A. Lim is aggressively retooling the ongoing Balikbayan program to entice more Filipinos abroad, particularly from North America, to visit the Philippines during 2011 through 2016.

The Department of Tourism expects to achieve a 25 percent growth in arrivals during this period from top markets like the U.S., Canada, Australia, U.K. and Japan, Lim told the Filipino Reporter in a wide-ranging interview in New York City on June 23.

Overseas Filipinos and former Filipinos accounted for 22.8 percent, or 688,855 visitors in 2009, according to Lim.

To give weight to this special campaign, President Benigno Aquino declared 2011-2016 as “Pinoy Homecoming Years,” the first time any administration paid maximum attention to wooing the huge Balikbayan market.

The opening salvo was launched in New York City with the Pinoy Homecoming and Balikbayan Plus reception on June 23 at the Lighthouse International, 111 East 59th Street this city.

Three senators and three congressmen joined a travel mission headed by Lim that featured a roadshow which travelled to six cities in the U.S. and Canada from June 20 through July 2.

“We are sparing no effort to pursue the objectives of the presidential proclamation,” Lim said.

In a slide presentation later in the program, Lim said he would tap “the Philippine diaspora” to achieve his job of bringing visitors to the Philippines.

The DOT chief was alluding to the growing migration of Filipinos abroad and the expanding second and third generation Filipinos abroad.

Lim also would like to encourage more non-Filipino tourists, Chinese specifically, to head to the Philippines.

Statistics show that 187,000 Chinese had visited the Philippines this year, coming from the mainland, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

In 2010, 600,000 Chinese went to the Philippines, second to 740,000 tourists from South Korea.

Lim acknowledged tensions between the Philippines and China over claims to parts of the Spratly Island groups in the South China Sea.

“I have travelled to China several times to smooth our strained relations,” he said.

“I think we are making progress.”

At the same time, he said there are still enmity in Hong Kong against the Philippines as a result of the death of eight tourists from Hong Kong during a botched hostage rescue at the Luneta.

“They have conducted their own inquest, which essentially blames Filipino police and city officials for their mishandling of the crisis,” he said.

To this day, a Hong Kong travel advisory to the Philippines is in effect. “We’re working to have this removed,” said Lim.

As an offshoot of the Luneta incident, 1,000 elite tourist police had been deployed in popular resorts and landmarks throughout the country.

“We call them TOP-COP,” Lim said, the first three initials referring to Tourist-Oriented Police.

The members are fresh graduates of the Philippine National Police Academy, and are highly trained.

Lim said his department is currently searching for a slogan that best describe the beauty of the Philippines.

An earlier slogan, “Pilipinas Kay Ganda,” did not catch on and was discarded after it was launched with much fanfare.

Past slogans included “Where Asia Wears a Smile,” (under Tourism Secretary Jose D. Aspiras) and “WOW Philippines” (under Tourism Secretary Richard Gordon).

Lim has a liking for “Shining Through,” the slogan for Philippine Airlines.

What about “Come Home, na,” a kibitzer butted in.



Tourism Secretary Alberto A. Lim (right) talking to Filipino Reporter publisher Bert Pelayo, while PDOT New York tourism director Emma Ruth Yulo looks on.  (Photo by Elton Lugay)