Unlimited capacity for self-injury
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva1 (The Philippine Star) - November 12, 2015 - 9:00am

Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary Ramon Jimenez is not taking credit on how the “More Fun in the Philippines” campaign has brought more than 5.2 million foreign tourists compared to three million before he joined the Cabinet. However, Jimenez admitted foreign tourist arrivals were way off his target of 10 million by the end of the term of President Benigno “Noy” Aquino III in June 2016.

But more than the tourist arrivals, Jimenez said the more important gauge of the success of the “More Fun in the Philippines” campaign is in terms of tourism receipts or revenues generated, which had so far amounted to roughly $6 billion, or about P168.75 billion. Compared to the previous year’s tourism receipts of P157.73 billion, it was an increase of 6.99 percent.

And more important, Jimenez noted, the country’s tourism is now supporting six million Filipinos with gainful jobs all over the country. A marketing manager before he became DOT Secretary, Jimenez underscored the great multiplier effect of tourism in boosting the country’s economy.

Jimenez cited these official figures from the DOT and the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) during our Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Wednesday at the Luneta Hotel on T.M. Kalaw St., Manila. Validating Jimenez’ upbeat tourism report were Aileen Clemente of Rajah Travels, board member of the Tourism Congress, and Jett Villegas of Ermita-Malate Business Owners Association who joined our weekly breakfast forum.

From experiences of the Philippines and other countries as well, Jimenez sought to highlight the tourism industry as a dependable shock absorber during difficult times, especially those beyond the control of the government from geopolitics to natural calamities and man-made disasters.

But Jimenez accepted the fact that certain problems like the limited capacity of gateways (airports), lack of tourism infrastructure and other challenges are things that the government could address with the help of the private sector.

Launched in January 2012 by no less than President Aquino, the DOT’s catchy tourism brand slogan “More Fun in the Philippines” spread the word here and abroad about our country’s being an exciting and enjoyable place to visit.

This promotional campaign started a few months after President Aquino appointed Jimenez as DOT Secretary in September 2011. While “More Fun in the Philippines” campaign started to catch the attention of travellers around the world, Jimenez confessed, the country suffered a severe backlash from the government’s mishandling of the Luneta bus hostage incident in Manila in August 2010. Eight Hong Kong and Chinese tourists were killed in the crossfire in the botched police rescue operation.

The Chinese and Hong Kong authorities placed the Philippines in the black travel list. It was only lifted in April 2104 after former President and now Mayor of Manila Joseph Estrada flew to Hong Kong and formally apologized to the families of victims, with monetary compensation for the dead and wounded victims.

From then on, Jimenez noted, there has been a big improvement in tourist arrivals from China and Hong Kong. In fact, latest DOT and PSA figures showed China is back in the top five countries of foreign visitors as of September this year.

The biggest number of foreign visitors in the Philippines continues to come from Korea, with nearly one million tourists; followed by the United States (US), Japan, China and Australia. The next top five are from Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, United Kingdom (UK) and Canada.

All top 10 foreign tourists in the country, except for the UK, are also member-economies of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) that is holding its annual leaders’ summit in Manila next week.

Jimenez estimated that as much as 7,000 at the minimum to as high as 12,000 foreign delegates are expected to come for the APEC meeting. This, he stressed, would generate more tourist revenues for the country amid issues being raised by Aquino administration critics against the P10 billion reportedly spent by the Philippine government for the summit.

Jimenez also sought to downplay criticisms and concerns over possible business and economic losses due to the cancellation of some 1,125 domestic and 239 international flights before and during the APEC summit in Manila. The DOT Secretary pointed out these flight cancellations have long been planned and coordinated with Philippine Airlines (PAL), Cebu Pacific (CEB) and other airlines in anticipation of security requirements of participating APEC leaders attending the summit.

As of yesterday, 18 of the 21 heads of APEC member-economies have confirmed their attendance. This was after President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Joko Widodo of Indonesia yesterday cancelled their attendance at the summit for one reason or another.

Jimenez dismissed concerns though about possible  “tanim-bala” incidents that may victimize delegates and international journalists and businessmen attending the APEC. For one, he said the Ninoy Aquino International Airport terminals 1, 2 and 3 have APEC lanes to process the arrival of these foreign delegates.

While our country’s tourism industry is back on a rosy path, Jimenez expressed concerns over the continuing negative publicity generated by incidents of alleged “tanim-bala,” or the supposed planting of bullets in the luggage of unsuspecting victims, allegedly perpetrated by a few unscrupulous airport personnel.

Jimenez warned these few incidents that has now become overblown in media could later cause debilitating impact to our robust tourism numbers. Thus, the DOT Secretary joined the chorus for an immediate and complete resolution of this “tanim-bala” brouhaha.

The Senate began yesterday its own probe into alleged “syndicates” behind these bullet-planting acts at the airports.

“This is why this issue (of tanim-bala) is not fun for our six million tourism workers all over the country if this is not resolved completely at the soonest possible time,” Jimenez rued.

The DOT chief laments the “tanim-bala” scare is yet another example of the unlimited capacity of Filipinos for self-injury.

Euphemistically, the DOT Secretary stopped short of saying “tanim-bala” is like Filipinos shooting themselves in the foot.


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