Masters of the sand and sea
BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - February 15, 2018 - 12:00am

With the continuing recovery of the global economy, international tourism is notably also on an upswing.

For the Philippines, this means reckoning with tougher competition elaborately designed by countries like China, Thailand, and even the UK, that bank on tourism revenues to support their respective travel and destination industries.

The three countries mentioned above represent the top three city destinations in the world, according to a research by Euromonitor International. For China, it’s Hong Kong with 26 million visitors in 2016; for Thailand, it’s Bangkok with 21.25 million; and for the UK, it’s London with 19.2 million. 

The other top cities included in a list of 25, in the order of tourist arrivals, are Singapore, Macau, Dubai, Paris, New York City, Shenzhen (China), Kuala Lumpur, Phuket (Thailand), Rome, Tokyo, Taipei, Istanbul, Seoul, Guangzhou (China), Prague, Mecca (Saudi Arabia), Miami (Florida), Delhi, (India), Mumbai (India), Barcelona (Spain), Pattaya (Thailand), and Shanghai (China).

The last city in the list of 25, Shanghai, had 6.9 million arrivals in 2016 and was bullish about increasing this to 7.2 million in 2017. The Philippines, taking all of its cities and tourist destinations together, had only 6.8 million tourist arrivals last year.

Yes, Philippine tourism will need superhuman effort over the next five to 10 years if it dreams of capturing the attention of international tourists. A clear and concise development plan that is ably supported by the government is of paramount importance.

Finding our strength, and building on it

The World Bank, no less, talks about the importance of developing the tourism sector in the Philippines. While it already accounts for six to seven percent of our gross domestic product (GDP) and provides jobs for around 3.5 million Filipinos, much more could be reaped.

Recognizing the country’s most glaring weakness in its National Tourism Development (NTD) Plan, and finding a way to address it – or work around it – should help ensure a successful campaign that would capture the attention of foreigners seeking rest and recreation.

We must find our strength, and from there, build a program that will make it a smash hit, just like how Hong Kong continues to bank on its extensive cuisine and its being a gateway to a far bigger adventure that is China: Macau, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Shanghai.

Bangkok’s exotic culture, with its temples and river boat rides, is a sure way of attract foreigners, but so does the unique food, people hospitality, and, for a while, inexpensive shopping. Bangkok is also the first stop before going to Phuket and Pattaya.

London, likewise, is an important city that cannot be ignored when visiting the UK. This key European destination is steeped with history, culture, and arts. Going through the museums alone will take days.

Unspoiled country

What can the Philippines offer?

While Manila still offers an interesting link to the world’s colonial era, best exemplified by Philippine churches and post-war Corregidor, there is not that much else that can perk up the interest of the average tourist of today.

A survey conducted in 2016 pointed out that tourists still look first and foremost for beaches, or the sand and sea, when planning their vacation retreats. The Mountains and Nature theme has been relegated to second priority, and a visit to the big city and museums is down to third in preference.

Notwithstanding the current major challenges that our tourism sector faces, including the inadequacies of our air and sea ports, roads, railways, ground transport network, having one of the world’s best beaches and weather makes the Philippines a must-visit destination.

The south has a string of fine-sand beaches with unspoiled coves and spectacular sandbars that could make a tourist vacation worth a revisit, or even retelling to others. Diving, snorkeling, surfing, fishing, boating, or just soaking the sun are just some of the activities that a tourist can indulge in over a fortnight to revitalize before returning to the real world.

Condé Nast, one of the world’s two most influential travel magazines, had recently named Boracay, Cebu and Palawan as the top three best islands in the world. The three locations all have sand and the sea.


Defining the route that the visitors will use to get to the sand and sea will help in prioritizing where the government’s resources should go. The Build Build Build program may talk about a golden age of infrastructure, but only 30 percent of the allocated P8 trillion over the next six years will go to building roads and bridges.

Even the roads and bridges that have been singled out for the BBB program are all not purposely built to support the national tourism plan. By focusing on a single route, developing a cohesive tourist experience with the sand and sea as a theme will be easier to fund – and will be more attractive to private investors.

Building a tourist destination, after all, is not just about ports and road. It needs to attract capital for road transportation services, decent board and lodging, and professional assistance by trained staff – which the government will definitely not put money in.

The NTD Plan has identified far too many tourist destinations in the country, a palatable feast to the eyes for many, but a nightmare when confronted with the scarce logistical support that the country can offer.

Let’s focus on one destination, be masters of sand and sea, and pour all the resources that we can muster, and make the chosen theme a memorable experience for those who buy in.

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