THINK-7: Appropriate tourism promotional approach
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel O Abalos () - October 31, 2011 - 12:00am

Despite the ongoing global financial crisis, tourism remains a formidable industry to lean on. Its resiliency is well manifested by how it survives in the midst of a world that is hobbled by stock market crashes, political instabilities and debt crisis. As we are all aware of, the travel and tourism sector was in the receiving end in 2009 not only because of the global economic crisis but because of security threats, pandemics and strikes among personnel within the industry. Recently, however, the report is very encouraging. As reported, after a two-year free-fall, it is now emerging globally.  

It is, therefore, timely and appropriate that the Department of Tourism (DoT) is now taking the lead and is embarking on a more meaningful promotional approach. The recently launched Tourism and Heritage Information Network-7 (THINK-7) program that shall “create a network of reporters and bloggers that would help promote the region’s tourism industry” is such a good idea. However, before it moves a step further, the right direction must be set. If foreign tourists are the preferred target, then, first and foremost, we should know how we stand among tourism-player countries. 

Appropriately, we should be guided by the recently released survey by the World Economic Forum, The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2011. This is published by the World Economic Forum within the framework of the Centre for Global Competitiveness and Performance and the Industry Partnership Programme for Aviation, Travel & Tourism. 

As optimistically reported, the travel and tourism (T&T) sector has returned to the pre-crisis level in terms of tourist arrival with emerging markets on the lead. The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) estimates “that, from direct and indirect activities combined, the T&T sector now accounts for a remarkable 9.2 percent of global GDP, 4.8 percent of world exports, and 9.2 percent of world investment”.   Clearly, therefore, the T&T sector remains very significant for the world economy. It accounts, among others, a sizeable share of global employment and has also provided an important opportunity for developing countries to improve and aim for bigger shares of the pie.

While this upbeat news is very encouraging globally, it remains a big concern nationally. Absolutely, because while other lower ranked countries in 2009 have moved up, the Philippines declined farther down to the cellar. In the recent ranking of 139 economies, the Philippines was ranked 94th overall. This is a very sad 94th place out of 139 considering that in 2009 we were ranked 86th out of 133 countries. Worst, among ASEAN countries included in the survey, we are way below Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei, Indonesia and Vietnam. If there is a consolation, we are a little better than the then civil war-ravaged countries of Cambodia and Timor-Leste.

The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2011 report had three main components. These are the “regulatory components”, “business environment and infrastructure”, and “human, cultural and natural resources”. In such report, it is encouraging that we ranked 75th in the area of “human, cultural and natural resources”. It is a great recognition of what nature has endowed us. However, such ranked was pulled down by our performances in “regulatory components” which was a mediocre 98th place and in “business environment and infrastructure” which was a negligible 95th. Thus, overall, we placed 94th.

Clearly, therefore, what we need are good regulatory components as well as better business environment and infrastructure.   Unfortunately, however, we are more engaged in useless arguments on concerns and issues without much value. Worst, we are trying to dwell on promotional undertakings, like Suroy-suroy Sugbo, that downrightly quenches only a politician’s thirst for publicity than propels tourism initiatives.

By the looks of it, however, THINK-7 is entirely different. The fact alone that the program optimizes the use of social networking sites makes us conclude that, this time, promotional campaigns are more serious and devoid of selfish political interest. Moreover, unlike the very extravagant Suroy-suroy Sugbo, it is not expensive. Notably, since tourists are internet savvy and are browsing the web before they go on a trip, it shall definitely be more effective.

However, since we are trying to deal with an honest-to-goodness promotion, before we move ahead, the program’s prime movers must first assess the real situation. Honestly, it is difficult to portray the good by hiding the truth.  

First and foremost, a few months ago, Mayor Mike Rama embarked on a high profile thrust of beautifying the streets of the city. Picking a socialite to head the super body added much glitz into an already glittering arena of intriguing developments. Before it can even take off, Hon. Margot Osmeña launched her own more pragmatic “pockets of beauty” program. Whether these two beautification programs or drives are coordinated, we do not know. Certainly though, there seems to be an honest effort from the city government to put the streets pleasing to our eyes. However, while the honest intent to beautify the city is laudable, this does not necessarily mean that it would result to a safer and more orderly street. For instance, to put sidewalk vendors in one side of the street may make it pleasing to the eyes and ease pedestrians’ traffic but it does not necessarily mean it would improve sidewalk vendors’ wares or stuffs. 

Just keenly observe them in the streets and you’ll see the obvious. They are so untidy and so unhealthy. They didn’t realize that they thrive on pedestrians’ patronage. These are pedestrians (including tourists) who largely consider food safety. Sidewalk vendors seem not to be aware that pedestrians refrain from buying food that are messily prepared, such as those reportedly fried with used cooking oil. Therefore, instead of just toying the idea of making one of our streets look like that one in Paris, why not do something that is more appropriate for us? For instance, to make it more mutually beneficial, our ordinances should establish, among others, location restrictions, design requirements and operational guidelines. Location restriction should include prohibitions in setting up carts within intersections, access ramps for handicapped and in jeepney stops. To ensure viability, the distance between carts must also be established. Design requirements should include the allowable length and height, use of carts, and the use of umbrella or canopy. Operating guidelines shall include prominent display of business licenses (in securing for a permit, health certificate is a must), maintenance of cleanliness and orderliness in the area, obedience of lawful order of a police officer when they are requested to transfer to another location, pushing out the cart from the streets after business hours, and items allowed to be sold.

On the other hand, for the province, Gov. Garcia may start with the most essential of all - sanitation. With the magnitude of the promotions that maybe done here and abroad, tourist arrivals will certainly shoot up. Moreover, as we start to vigorously promote tourism in our rural areas, tourists shall travel a lot in the countryside. As they tour around the Island of Cebu, hopping from one town to another to take first-hand experiences of those must publicized places and festivals they shall soon find out that these LGUs do not even have decent toilets.

As an island province, ours are all coastal cities and municipalities. Each LGU has its own stretches of shorelines or beaches. They are all bragging about the serenity of their beaches and relentlessly inviting tourists to take a dip, as if, it is the only prerequisite.   Known to all of us, our public markets are situated just several meters from the shorelines, some are even so near the beaches. Unknown however, to most of us, these beaches are made receptacles of these public markets’ leftovers and wastes.

Indeed, we truly understand the necessity of promoting our tourism potentials both here and abroad. The need to inform potential market of our rich cultural heritage, historical sites and serene beaches is unquestionable. In doing so however, we must not forget that like any business, the key to any success is continued patronage. This can only be achieved once we can develop a strong customer base that will not only give us repeat businesses but shall tell the world, how clean and enjoyable our island is.

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