If you build it, they will come
LONDON EYE - Stephen Lillie (The Philippine Star) - May 9, 2013 - 12:00am

It's almost a year since President Aquino's visit to London in 2012. Arriving on the Queen's Silver Jubilee weekend, the President felt some of the heritage and tradition that makes the UK a top draw for overseas tourists. And for his part, the President helped get the message out about all the fantastic things the Philippines has to offer British visitors. He posed on board one of London's famous red double-decker buses emblazoned with an “It's more fun in the Philippines“ advert.   Similar adverts were placed on taxis and in London Underground stations.  The campaign, in Britain and other countries, has helped deliver a 9% increase in tourists and led to over 4 million international tourists visiting the Philippines in 2012.

This increase is great for those that get to experience the delights of the wonderful coral reefs of diverse islands such as Bohol, Boracay and Siquijor, the island hopping in El Nido, the hiking around Taal, Pinatubo and Mount Mayon or, my personal highlight, swimming with the whale sharks at Donsol. It is also good for the Philippine economy. Tourism is a sector that translates in to job creation. While 4 million is great, the challenge is now to get close to the 25 million plus who visit Malaysia and Thailand.  That would be truly transformational for the Philippine economy.

We know something about this in Great Britain, as we’re honoured to play host to over 30 million international tourists every year. Our unique selling points are a bit different than the Philippines. Contrary to popular myth, we do enjoy a lovely summer, even if the temperatures are more Baguio than Batangas.

We have some wonderful natural areas such as the Lake District, the Scottish Highlands, the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland and Snowdonia in Wales.  There's the history and Royal pageantry of London, the fantastic museums and theatres, the musicals and the Proms — a summer-long celebration of classical music that has taken place since 1895.  For those with more modern tastes, there is a huge array of music festivals and the Edinburgh Fringe for comedy lovers. Sport is another great attraction with Wimbledon and the Open Golf Championship among the highlights.  

The natural wonders, climate and beautiful oceans are among the Philippines' unique selling points.  The “More Fun in the Philippines” campaign is clearly helping with brand awareness. However, vitally important though this is, fulfilling the Philippines' tourism potential also requires the right infrastructure.

Air connections are a good starting point, so I hope the CAAP will be able to take the necessary steps that allow the ban on direct flights to Europe to be lifted soon. After that, the challenge is really all about physical infrastructure ­— whether it's modern airports able to cope with large numbers of flights, or an adequate supply of quality hotel rooms in the different tourist centres.  That includes quality 3 and 4 star hotels that cater to the hard-working but not necessarily wealthy middle market — not just top-notch boutique resorts.

Fully unlocking the country's tourism potential will be hard work for the Department of Tourism and its partners.  Successive administrations have seen the opportunity, but delivery has been harder.  Let's hope this changes. With over 7,000 islands to choose from, I feel confident that more and more international tourists will be discovering what those of us who are privileged to live here already know: that it really is more fun in the Philippines.

(Stephen Lillie is the British Ambassador to the Philippines)


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