As the Philippines targets 10 million foreign visitor arrivals this year, Senator Grace Poe urged the government to prioritize the improvement of the country's international and domestic airports in order to give a favorable first glimpse of the Philippines.
Better airports, according to the senator, will help drum up the Department of Tourism's (DOT) new promotional campaign called "Visit the Philippines Again," which seeks to entice returning visitors through privileges and discounts.
"The first impressions of a country are made in airports, and if we want to truly impress tourists, basic infrastructures such as airports need to be prioritized," Poe said.
Poe said tourists decide how progressive and efficient a country is judging from what they see and experience at airports, which serve as gateways to a country.
"Before tourists marvel at the gorgeous Philippine beaches, they experience our miserable airports, which could leave a bad taste, especially for first-time travellers," she said.
Out of 144 countries, the Philippines ranked 108th in terms of air transport infrastructures according to the 2014 Global Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum.
The country's main international airport in Manila is frequently criticized for its poor facilities and lately, has been plagued with allegations of harboring scammers that prey on passengers. The 23 domestic airports identified and evaluated by worldairportcodes.com were all classified as substandard.
"There is no doubt that the country has the most pristine beaches, friendliest locals and an incredibly fascinating history. The Philippines is a traveler's dream. However, we still fail to attract as many visitors as our ASEAN neighbors. Our airports, notorious for their substandard facilities, need a major lift," said Poe.
The Philippines is lagging behind its neighbors in total international tourism receipts, according to the 2014 Annual Report of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). Despite a new high of 4.8 million international tourist arrivals, the country still trailed Malaysia (27.4 million tourist arrivals), Singapore (11.8 million), Indonesia (9.4 million) and Vietnam (7.9 million).
Poe, who is running for president in May, vowed to complete the construction and development of seven old and new international and domestic airport projects already identified for Public-Private Partnership within the first three years of her term. Among these are airports in Bohol, Iloilo and Bacolod in Negros Occidental.
From January to October 2015, some 4.4 million foreign tourists visited the Philippines, with Koreans accounting for the biggest group.
Four million Filipinos are directly or indirectly employed in the tourism industry.