Sustaining the growth of Philippine tourism
BIZLINKS - Rey Gamboa (The Philippine Star) - December 17, 2019 - 12:00am

Improved air connectivity, intensified marketing promotions, budding relations with other countries, as well as the growing recognition of the country’s sustainable tourism advocacy are some of the reasons that the Department of Tourism (DOT) attribute double digit growths in tourist arrivals and tourist spending for the first 10 months of the year.

It seems like the country’s tourism targets – 8.2 million arrivals and P564 billion under the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) – will be met by the end of the year, even with the snafus experienced during the opening days of the Southeast Asian Games 2019 early in November.

Compared to previous years’ performances, this year’s expected numbers deserves a pat in the back of our tourism officials and staff. Should there be no major setbacks at both the local and global fronts, the Philippines may well achieve its goal of 10 million tourist arrivals, perhaps even significantly more, by 2022.

Of course, on a truly competitive ranking, we are still far behind most ASEAN countries including upstart Vietnam, and may find serious challenges from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, which have also been ramping up their tourist promotion efforts in recent years. But that’s another story.

Growing recognition

For now, we deserve to bask in the growing number of awards that recognize the country’s tourism efforts. Boracay Island continues to reap accolades, not just from the influential Conde Nast Traveler, but also from Travel + Leisure and the Japan Tourism Awards.

Palawan has also been given recognition by Travel + Leisure and CNN’s Travel for being one of the world’s best islands. CNN also voted Vigan in Ilocos Norte as one of Asia’s most picturesque town destinations.

More recently, the World Travel Awards recognized the Philippines as the world’s best diving destination, surpassing globally famous dive destinations like the Azores Islands, Bora Bora in French Polynesia, Cayman Islands, Fiji, Galapagos Islands, Great Barrier Reef in Australia, Maldives, and Mexico. This speaks a lot for our underwater attractions.

Amanpulo Resort, which belongs to the prestigious Aman group of luxury destinations, was also recognized by the WTA as the world’s leading dive resort. Aman was ranked first in Luxury Travel Intelligence’s top luxury hotel brands in 2018.

Sustainable efforts

Most of the awards mentioned bank on the natural beauty of our islands and its surrounding waters. Long stretches and wide expanses of powdery white sand with gin-clear waters and warm sun give beachgoers a pleasurable and unforgettable experience.

The six-month closure of Boracay last year has helped restore this popular international tourist destination into a paradise that is worth visiting and revisiting. While more needs to be accomplished despite the recent clean-up efforts, this should be seen as a guide for other similar destinations.

Panglao Island, for example, needs to learn from nearby Boracay. With more tourists exploring alternative island destinations in the country and with the opening of the Panglao International Airport, the island has seen more visitors in recent months.

Local governments’ role

Unfortunately, the local government lacks preparedness in meeting the sanitation demands that come with many new resorts mushrooming along the island’s coastlines. There is no centralized sewerage system, and worse, garbage collection and disposal continue to be environmentally unacceptable.

The small island of Balicasag, which has increasingly become a favorite destination of novice divers and snorkelers, is dotted with small excavations that the many eateries fill with plastic water bottles and other debris that are not biodegradable.

Plastic waste is an increasingly sore sight in many islands that mar the excellent beaches, water sports, diving, and snorkeling attractions. Plastic not only washes up on the shoreline, but can also be seen floating in formerly pristine waters.

Not only are the islands imperiled. In Mountain Province’s Sagada, the local government has likewise been grappling with the growing number of tourists who flock to explore its awesome underground caves.

The DOT should quickly come up with standards that local governments can adopt and enforce in tourist sites to preserve and ensure the sustainability of the environment.

New gateways

The Duterte government’s Build Build Build (BBB) program has undeniably opened doors for the country’s tourism industry. New international gateways for tourists offer more convenient and faster travel to desired destinations.

Last year, the much-improved international airports of Mactan, Clark, and Davao provided tourists with acceptable entry alternatives to the congested Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminals in Manila. The new international airports of Iloilo, Kalibo, and Panglao were also welcome additions.

As a result, with more airlines and flights being opened, more tourists are encouraged to fly in. Being an archipelago on the fringes of the ASEAN region, having plenty of international airports strategically located all over the country is the best way to boost our tourism effort.

Additionally, our seaports and road networks especially in designated tourist destinations must be upgraded to provide that seamless travel experience for visitors. Again, BBB will be crucial in solidifying the gains achieved by our much-improved air travel facilities.

The potential for tourism as a source of revenues for the country is well-supported by many studies, but for a developing economy like the Philippines, tourism’s role in bringing inclusive growth to the fringes of urban centers holds more value.

The DOT’s role here will be to provide the template for other tourism stakeholders — from the simplest bed-and-breakfasts to the five-star hotels — to be able to provide the kind of service that will put the finishing touches in our promise to make the Philippines a genuinely fun destination.

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