The government is working double time to improve the country’s infrastructure and offer cheaper rates to attract more tourists to come to the Philippines. Speaking at a business forum Friday night, President Aquino said the country is “a market that is yet to be developed. For instance, there is a proposal that 78 areas in the country should be reserved for ecotourism sites.”

About 14 million tourists who visit Thailand every year, while 22 million to 24 million go to Malaysia, thus the need for the Philippines to catch up, Aquino pointed out.

“When we assumed office, there were only three million that visited the Philippines; therefore this is an experience that has yet to be experienced by more citizens of the world. Once the upgrades in the airports have been achieved, this will make travel easier,” Aquino explained.

The President has approved the upgrading of airports in Kalibo, Caticlan, Puerto Princesa, Laguindingan in Cagayan de Oro, Clark, among others to lessen travelers’ woes when visiting the country.

He also cited the pocket open skies policy that would make it easier for tourists to come over to the Philippines, bypassing the congested airports in Metro Manila.

“We’re working double time on securing Category 1 status with the US FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) as well as being removed from the European blacklist as far as air travel is concerned. So once it’s easier to travel here, once they experience truly why it is more fun in the Philippines – we already did four million or close to four million last year – I would be very, very surprised if we did not surpass that number this year, ending up with about 10 million by 2016,” Aquino noted.

The President also urged the businessmen to invest in infrastructure, agriculture and tourism in the country to spur economic development.

He cited how the Department of Budget and Management is speeding up the release of funds for various projects following heavy criticism for last year’s slow spending.

“We are getting very, very good terms with regards to the borrowings that we have to do. The secretary of finance, if I’m not mistaken, has just told us that we already received a $1.5-billion loan that we secured (at terms) better than Spain and already at par with Italy,” Aquino said.

“As you know, these countries have been previously rated as investment grade for the longest time, so we will be doing a lot more and pay more interest in achieving infrastructure programs that will support tourism, business and agriculture,” he said.

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