Tourism chief Christina Garcia Frasco and Saudi Vice Minister of Tourism Princess Haifa Al Saud in Riyadh on Nov. 28. (Photo courtesy of DOT)

MANILA – The Philippines seeks to woo more tourists from Saudi Arabia, the country's top Middle East market, as the Department of Tourism (DOT) moves to boost tourism cooperation with the Kingdom.

Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco met with key industry players in Saudi Arabia, including Vice Minister of Tourism Princess Haifa Al Saud, on the sidelines of the 22nd World Travel and Tourism Council in Riyadh last week as she pitched the country's "viability" as a tourist destination.

During a bilateral meeting, the two officials discussed opportunities and potential areas of cooperation to advance both countries' tourism sectors.

"The two ministers agreed on formalizing their partnership with Saudi Arabia guiding the Philippines through Arabic-speaking tour guides, and in terms of developing the Halal and pilgrimage tourism portfolios, increasing direct flights, and creating an investor directory. On the other hand, the Philippines will provide hospitality and human capital development to the Kingdom’s tourism frontline," the DOT said Tuesday.

Before the pandemic, Saudi Arabia ranked No. 1 in tourism arrivals among the Philippines' source markets in the Middle East, with at least 43,748 visitors recorded in 2019.

To date, it ranks 23rd with 9,424 arrivals since the Philippines reopened in February 2022.

"We see great potential in ushering in more arrivals into the Philippines… At the same time, the development and relationship is mutual considering that there are over 800,000 Filipinos here in Saudi Arabia. Therefore our affection for each other is long standing and I am very interested in furthering this relationship by formalizing an agreement specifically focused on tourism development,” Frasco said during her Riyadh trip.

"We recognize the massive potential for growth to attract more tourists from this Region, especially with our drive to expand Halal Tourism in the Philippines," she noted.

The Philippines, meanwhile, looks forward to the prospects of Saudi Arabia's tourism as it continues to invest in the sector.

Frasco said Manila is willing to partner in terms of capability-building and tourism education, citing the Philippines' renowned "Filipino brand of service excellence".

'Listening tour'

As part of her "listening tour", Frasco also met with other travel and tourism stakeholders and presented the country’s tourism plans, the seven-point tourism agenda and key strategies, routes resumption and development dialogues and diversification of tourism portfolio, among others.

Among the subjects discussed were the "need for Philippines tourism exposure in the Kingdom, direct flights to other key gateways in the Philippines to and from Saudi Arabia, and the organization of familiarization trips for the tour and travel operators."

The attendees, who come from different top travel tour organizations and destination management companies for the Middle East, included ITL World, Dnata Travel, Arjaa Travel, Al Sarh Travel, Seera, I Trip, Saudi Wings Holidays, Arabian Travelers, Elite Holidays, Ace Travel, Saudi International Travel Co., Hesen Almusafer, Fursan Travel, Arabian Company for Travellers Services, Al Shahin Travel & Tourism and Sayar Travel & Tourism, as well as airline executives, including Philippine Airlines Country Manager for the KSA Ricky Solomon Pacquing.

Frasco, on the summit's sidelines, also had a bilateral meeting with Indonesian Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno and talked about the strong partnership of both nations and the upcoming ASEAN Summit 2023, which Indonesia will host in February 2023.

She also met with Bulgarian Tourism Minister Ilin Dimitrov and discussed a "workable alliance" with the southeastern Europe country. (PNA)