Next to the departments of Foreign Affairs and National Defense, perhaps the tourism department is the most challenged government agency today because of the possible wrong global appreciation of the ongoing war on drugs being relentlessly waged by our government.
In the eyes of the world, we could be seen as the Colombia of East Asia during the bloody street-armed encounters between drug lords and government forces during the Madellin cartel’s dominance, where Pablo Escobar virtually controlled his country. The daily body count of the casualties, direct and collateral, would definitely scare those who do not fully understand the real situation on the ground. They will not see that we are far from what Colombia or Mexico were during their worse nightmare in their drug wars. However, we must ensure that the international community, especially those who plan to visit us, correctly perceive the actual conditions in our cities.
No chaos or riots
There is a huge difference. For one, our government has the upper hand in the ongoing campaign against the proliferation of illegal drugs. While the entire security apparatus of the government was surprised by the magnitude or the extent of the drug menace after President Duterte launched a no-nonsense war on drugs, our law-enforcement agencies immediately gained the momentum. The drug dealers, suppliers, distributors, financiers and protectors are being routed and prosecuted. The government is winning, although it may not be fully accomplished in six months as originally targeted. This is understandable, because the monster was bigger than anticipated. But surely, if the same dedication by our police under the leadership of Gen. Ronald M. dela Rosa is sustained, this war will be won.
Another significant difference is the huge popular support by the majority of our people. In spite of some opposition or criticism against the ongoing campaign, the most recent survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations, where the president is shown to be still enjoying a net trust rating of 64 percent, is an indication that the nation is silently approving the said program amid the possible shortcomings or mistakes being committed in the process. The absence of massive street protests or widespread neighborhood riots would imply that disenchantment against the administration, if there’s any, is not as strong. On the contrary, there is a better sense of security nowadays. Hence, the people and the government still own and enjoy our streets.
Easy and welcome gifts to our tourists and guests
I personally know Undersecretary Cath de Castro and Assistant Secretary Ricky Alegre of the Department of Tourism. I’m glad that Secretary Wanda Corazon T. Teo, who’s also known to be a straight and competent person, agreed to have them in her team. I can vouch that they have the experience, creativity and integrity to greatly improve the performance of this agency. Thus, the first welcome gift that we have is this team. We can expect that they will formulate and pursue sensible projects to improve not only the number of tourist arrivals but, more important, that these tourists enjoy their stay in our country.
For example, grant our tourists a pleasant enjoyment of our historic parks, such as the Intramuros. The present agency’s team can make a legacy by ridding this century-old citadel with the informal settlers that are inside the walls. Provide these poor settlers with a decent relocation area immediately. Then bring back this century-old famed destination’s dignity, where tourists can safely roam around and enjoy our history.
To improve the sense of security of our foreign guests, hire about a hundred blue guards, or even a thousand. Deploy them in the scenic Roxas Boulevard, Mabini area, Cultural Center Complex and other tourist destinations. Build off-site tourist-assistance centers, where professional staff would attend to the concerns of our guests. Ask the cooperation of the private sector and local governments for support and even funds. This is how they do it in Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and many other major cities. Let’s simply emulate them. Or in other words, copy their simple achievements.
Beyond effective campaign messaging
I’m sure the agency will soon come out with a sleek campaign slogan and marketing grand plan that would positively lure tourists to put us on their list. However, we must accept that the more important issue, which is considered an obligation for inviting them to come here, is to be perfectly sure that they will be happy with that decision to see the Philippines. That after they go back to their own countries, they will speak only good words about their experience with us.
There are many things that we can accomplish to improve our tourism industry. Infrastructures and accommodations need a serious improvement. But let’s start now with the list of easier gifts that we can give to our visitors when they arrive.