The Philippines rolled out an advertising campaign on Wednesday to attract millions more tourists, confident that kidnappings in its rebellion-torn south would have little impact.
Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez said the "It's More Fun in the Philippines" campaign would help drive annual visitor arrivals to 3.91 million this year and up to 10 million by 2016, from about 3.5 million last year.
Jimenez and a local association for travel agencies that hosted the campaign launch said tourists had not cancelled visits to the Philippines since the abduction a week ago of two European birdwatchers in the south.
"Fortunately it is not reflected in our arrival figures," Jimenez said when asked about the fallout from the abductions a week ago of Swiss Lorenzo Vinciguerra, 47, and Dutchman Ewold Horn, 52, in the Tawi Tawi archipelago.
Hundreds of security forces have deployed to search for the two European museum workers, who were snatched by gunmen while on an expedition to photograph rare hornbills in the wild.
The Europeans were in a remote area of the south where foreign governments warn their citizens from traveling because of the threat of kidnappings, as well as a decades-old Muslim separatist rebellion.
Islamic militants that roam the area regularly kidnap foreigners to extort ransom payments. Seven foreigners are now believed to be in captivity in the south.
But the dangerous southern extremes make up only a small part of the Philippines and Jimenez said tourists were increasingly starting to see the many attractions across the rest of the country.
"Slowly but surely, our image as an exciting country to go to is taking hold. I've been saying all along that when our positive image is stronger than our negative one, the momentum will hold," he said.
Jimenez said the government's new tourism drive, released on social networking sites last month but officially launched Wednesday, had already been a huge success. — Agence France-Presse