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MANILA; The Philippines has seen a 40% increase in international arrivals in a month since the ban on foreign tourists was lifted, officials said on Friday, as they expect a steady recovery in the country’s tourism sector.

The country reopened to fully vaccinated and COVID-19 negative foreign tourists on February 10 after nearly two years of border closures amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Data from the Philippine Bureau of Immigration showed the number of visitors arriving in the country rose from 150,740 in January to 211,899 in February.

“After the borders reopened on February 10, the Immigration Office processed international passenger arrivals at ports across the country at a record pace,” said office commissioner Jaime Morente.

“It is also more than 130% higher than the 91,000 passenger arrivals in February 2021.”

Most travelers arriving from overseas were overseas Filipinos, followed by Americans, Canadians and British nationals, according to BI statistics.

Home to white sandy beaches, famous diving spots, lively entertainment, cultural heritage and wildlife, the Philippine economy depends on tourism. When COVID-19 hit in 2020, most of the country’s tourist destinations were forced to close.

“I am confident that with our continued adherence to health protocols, we are slowly on the road to recovery,” Morente added.

Philippine Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat told reporters that the increase in arrivals was higher than expected for the time of year, as visitors normally come to the Philippines around the Easter season, which this year will begin in mid-April.

“We are very happy. We didn’t really expect there to be many visitors as tourists normally come during school holidays,” she said.

With Manila set to host the World Travel and Tourism Council’s global summit next month, Romulo-Puyat hoped it would help the Philippines restore jobs in the tourism sector lost to the pandemic.

Before the virus outbreak, in 2019, tourism accounted for nearly 13% of the country’s gross domestic product, generating 2.51 trillion pesos ($50 billion), according to data from the Philippine Statistics Authority. In 2020, tourism revenue fell to 973 billion pesos, as foreign arrivals fell by 82%.

At least 1.1 million workers in the tourism sector have been affected by the pandemic.

“Our goal is to restore jobs and sources of income for our tourism workers and stakeholders,” Romulo-Puyat added. “Having this WTTC summit will benefit the country by showing what the Philippines can offer the world.”

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