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Use Cebu as gateway for tourists

MACTAN, Cebu , Philippines – I often wonder why Tourism Secretary Ace Durano, a Cebuano, didn’t do more to promote Cebu as the tourism gateway to our country. I guess he was just too busy promoting himself. I have often advocated in this column that we should forget Manila and bring the tourists directly to Cebu. We have limited resources for international promotion so we have to be extra focused and the Visayas and their beaches are our best bet. This strategy will most definitely increase tourist traffic to our country and help make the now fanciful tourism arrival figure of Mr. Durano finally true.

The Cebu as gateway strategy is an obvious winner. The tourists will be closer to the resorts and tourist attractions that matter and far from the congestion, confusion and pollution of Metro Manila. In Mactan island itself, there are a number of world class resorts with well trained local staff that will make tourists leave with good memories of our country.

From Cebu, other tourist destinations like Bohol, Boracay and the boutique resorts in Negros are less than an hour away by air. Something along the lines of former Gov. Lito Osmeña’s “Island in the Pacific” campaign should do wonders. The Israeli Ambassador was once raving to me about a resort he visited in Siquijor. I haven’t heard of it, probably because it isn’t priced for those who think in peso terms.

Bringing the tourists to Manila first to catch a connecting flight to Cebu or the resorts in the Visayas is time consuming and an additional cause of frustration for many tourists. The confusion at NAIA gives our country a bad reputation. The good beaches are also at least three to four hours away from Metro Manila. In Cebu, world class resorts are right there… a few minutes drive from the airport.

Speaking as a tourist myself who had been to many world tourist areas, there is this eagerness to get to the resort and minimize waiting time in airports. The good news is that Cebu can now handle more tourists with the additional hotel rooms in the market.

This is why there is a need to upgrade Mactan International Airport and for us to attract more direct flights from other countries in addition to those that now come into Cebu from Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Japan. Mactan should be to the Philippines what Denpasar in Bali is to the Indonesians.

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Unfortunately the Mactan airport is now looking dowdy… like it needs major renovation… I think a totally new and modern terminal building like what our regional competitors in the tourism industry have is what we need. The airport must give a good first impression to visitors. I do not understand why despite the support Cebuanos have given Ate Glue and with a Cebuano at the helm of the tourism department, there is very little obvious government support to the tourism industry there.

The noteworthy developments in Mactan are private sector-led but are crying for government infrastructure and marketing support to improve their business prospects. Government should assure basics like light and water. But in Plantation Bay, they had to put up their own water desalination facility because the water system for the island is inadequate. I am sure all the resorts have their own power generators too.

Even tourism promotion is private sector-led. I was talking with Efren Belarmino, general manager of Plantation Bay and with a visiting Hong Kong travel agent last Saturday evening and I agree with their plan to boost selling efforts to the high end tourists in China. They plan to target Guangdong across the border from Hong Kong where there is a large concentration of wealthy Chinese entrepreneurs and their families. A direct flight from Guangdong should be ideal but for now, the direct flights from Hong Kong should probably be increased.

After seeing what the Plantation Bay people are doing, I am convinced that tourism will be a good job creator for the country. Last Saturday evening, the resort guests were entertained by a lavish presentation of dances and songs, complete with colorful Mardi Gras costumes under the thematic umbrella of Brazilian night. The amazing thing about it is that all the dancers and singers are also employees of the resort who are eager to showcase their talents and earn something extra in the process.

For example, the captivating singer who had us in awe has a day job at the resort as a butler. You wouldn’t have guessed by listening to her and enjoying her very professional performance. I was half kidding Efren that a job interview at Plantation Bay probably doubles as an audition of some performing talent.

They are doing an incredible job identifying and training staff at this resort. New resorts in Mactan, overseas resorts and cruise ships constantly pirate Plantation Bay staff. At the resort’s spa, for example, they have hired highly trained nurses and physical therapists who cannot find job openings in the health care sector or are unable to go abroad. No wonder my wife, who had a therapeutic massage for her scoliosis, found them among the best she has experienced in the world.

The great thing about tourism is that we can be competitive both in terms of the natural beauty of our country and our people’s natural hospitality. We are great entertainers, as anyone who has gone around Asia and even Europe and America will attest to. And anyone who doubts the ability of tourism to sustain an economy should just look at Hawaii. There is no real industry there of note other than tourism.

If we eventually get Durano’s mythical eight million tourists, all foreign as in Thailand, the local economies in regions outside Metro Manila will definitely get quite a boost. What Cebu needs now is less promises from politicians and more focused action on a growth strategy that matters for bringing the tourism numbers up.

The local resorts like Plantation Bay and Shangri-la Mactan are doing their own marketing to fill up their rooms. What we need is a concerted effort from government and private sector stakeholders. The local tourism industry will truly come to life if we consciously make Mactan International the tourism gateway to the Philippines.

Bayanijuan

I got an e-mail from Vice President Noli de Castro giving me further information on the situation in the Calauan relocation area for Pasig River squatters and Ondoy victims from Pasig City. Here is part of it.

With regard to the issue on the availability of school facilities, there are three existing school buildings in the resettlement site, constructed by NHA in year 2000. The building consists of 24 classrooms, for elementary students. At present, we have seven teachers and one Head Teacher. 

Even before these classrooms were completed, we have been coordinating with the Department of Education (DepEd) for additional 16 teachers. This is a standard operating procedure as soon as we decide to construct a school building in our relocation site. As a matter of fact, completed school buildings in our relocation sites have already been turned over to DepEd. This was formalized in a form of a MOA between NHA and DepEd which was submitted to the President during her visit last January 7.

The 1:100 teacher-pupil ratio mentioned in your column is accurate, but classes are held in two shifts, with 50 pupils per shift. Other students in the site are accommodated in nearby schools, such as the Dayap Elementary School, Dayap High School and Sto. Tomas Elementary School.

Construction is ongoing for an additional 3 storey 15 classroom high school and elementary school buildings in time for the opening of School Year 2010-2011 in June. As provided for in our MOA with the DepEd, we are undertaking coordination for the deployment of 30 additional teachers, on top of our pending request for 16 teachers.

It is true that Mayor Roberto Eusebio of Pasig City has committed to provide additional 30 school rooms and one multi-purpose covered court as assistance to those relocated from Pasig. However, we still have to receive a firm proposal from him on this matter.  

I would like to assure you, however, that we are doing the best we can to meet the requirements of the Ondoy relocatees. Apart from providing for their shelter, education, health and training needs, we are also working at addressing their employment and livelihood requirements.

Tension vs terror vs tragedy

We received this contribution from Atty Sonny Pulgar.

Tension is when wife is pregnant!

Terror is when girlfriend is pregnant!

Horror is when both are pregnant!

Tragedy is when you are not responsible for either!

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. This and some past columns can also be viewed at www.boochanco.com

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