THE Philippines has the natural jewels that are capable of attracting the targeted 10 million tourists that must visit and experience a memorable vacation in the so called Pearl of the Orient. However, we have yet to fully take advantage of our strengths as a winning tourist hub. And we are still far from resolving the challenges that weaken our chance of successfully competing against other destinations.
Income brought by the tourism industry directly benefits the economy. In 2013 for example, tourism contributed at least 7 percent to our gross domestic product. By 2016, the target is to increase this to 11 percent. Hence, if this is achieved, tourism will start to indeed be an important pillar of our economic growth. On that year, 6.8 to 7.5 million Filipinos will be directly employed in tourism related services or businesses. In 2011, actual employment in tourism industries was estimated at 3.8 million workers.
Foreign tourists spent around P 35.5 billion on shopping in 2011 according to the National Statistic’s Coordination Board. This amount was on top of the P31.8 billion spent for food and beverage and P 30.4 billion for accommodations. If we add the shopping expenses done by domestic tourists, total expenditures on shopping alone was P185.9 billion. To put this into another perspective, the total expenses on shopping contributed by the tourism sector is at least seven times the total annual remittances of P25 billion sent by our hard-working millions of overseas Filipino workers.
Infrastructures must be improved
ALONG with other parameters such as natural resources, price competitiveness, prioritization of travel and tourism industry, visa requirements, we have to catch up with the necessary infrastructures to ensure the pleasant stay of our international guests.
Our airports must be at par with other international airports. Our total airport capacity must be increased from 59.7 million passengers to 75.8 million. The facilities in the said airport must be further enhanced. The current management of the Manila International Airport Authority under former Air Force General Jose Angel Honrado must be credited for the vast improvement that has been instituted in our gateways in spite of the limited budget of his agency.
More rooms must also be built mainly by the private sector so that more visitors can be accommodated by the country. In 2012, around 145,782 rooms were available in the entire country. This number must be increased to at least 183,134 rooms according to the studies done by National Economic and Development Authority and the Department of Tourism.
Public roads and highways leading from the airports to our famed tourists spots must be completed.
Strong public support
THE efforts and achievements of the Department of Tourism’s Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. are widely acknowledged. Tourist arrivals already broke the 4 million mark last year. About 4.8 million guests visited the country in 2014. Such increase in tourist traffic, international awards, and effective marketing campaigns are testimonies to the effective management of our current tourism officials. However, these will never be sufficient. Everyone must contribute in ensuring the success of our tourism industry.
The laws and ordinances penalizing crimes or abuses against our visitors must be reviewed for the possibility of further protecting our tourists. Take for example, the recent fatal shooting of 3 foreign nationals, 2 Indians and a German, in a famous fast food chain in Cebu. The incident is an embarrassment to all of us. That’s not how we should deal with our guests. The media must assist in building strong awareness to make our society friendly to foreigners.
Local government units and the Philippine National Police (PNP) could undertake a more institutionalized program to make our tourists feel more secured or protected. Those traveling in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand and our other neighboring countries have the peace of mind that the streets in those places are safe. That must be achieved here. In Roxas Boulevard for example, the City of Manila can deploy dozens of blue guards to be visibly seen 24/7 by our guests who are charmed by our sunset. Or the PNP can create a special police unit that is primarily trained and dedicated to address the needs of our guests. Tourist Police is now a common sight in other Asian destinations.
Everyone must be conscious that the international tourists of the country are our personal guests. We must instantly give the warmth and protection expected from us as hosts. We must be outraged by the petty crimes and abuses that many of our guests experience. The embarrassment caused by victimizing our guests must be our common concern.
We must aspire that our visitors will say good words about our country when they go back to their communities. After all, the tourists that have experienced the natural beauty of our country and the sincere hospitality of our people are the best tourist guides of our country.