Revisit Holiday Economics
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - February 24, 2020 - 12:00am

No less than President Rodrigo Duterte has led the push to promote local tourism among Filipinos and that tells us how COVID 19 or the coronavirus has affected global economy and Philippine tourism goals. The first good thing I can say about today’s challenge is that it has solidified the importance and value of Tourism in terms of government programs, the economy and direct benefits to ordinary Filipinos as shown by the President’s willingness to personally invite all Filipinos to travel. While many people think of tourism as “Airlines and hotels”, we all need to think in terms of employees and entrepreneurs; travel agents, bus drivers, Grab, Jeepney and tricycle drivers. Fisher folks and backyard poultry and hog raisers, vegetable farmers, tour guides, porters, nurses, pilots and flight attendants and many more some of whom are our friends and relatives who make their living or earn salaries in tourism. 

This column might start out sounding like a naysayers work but bear with me because I have to point out the problems first and then I’ll make several “positive” suggestions that I draw from my past experience in resort development and tourism in the ’90s. First thing that needs to be pointed out is that if the President wants to push local tourism, “charity must begin at home.” By this I call attention to the various tourism related “reactionary” solutions, Executive Orders (EOs) and Department Orders issued to combat corruption, contain situations but are so sweeping they end up “killing the patient instead of curing the problem.” One of these is an executive order that prohibits or restricts government officials and agencies from conducting seminars and conferences “out of town” because the judgment is that these are generally junkets or acts of graft. From first hand experience, I saw how one such conference sponsored by the office of Secretary Martin Andanar for PIOs nationwide and held in Davao City several years ago, was very positively received and appreciated by Public Information Offices of LGUs who have never been invited to such a conference. Even President Duterte can’t deny the impact of conventions and exhibits have made on his beloved Davao City that has drawn so many events ever since he became president. So please review such orders because the problem is in the implementation of events and programs such as Lakbay Aral and not in the purpose and intent.

In the same manner, other government agencies have opted to be cautious than sorry such as the Department of Education that put a stop to field trips and I think later on modified or relaxed the rules a little because they are understandably more concerned about student and teacher safety or when field trips end up as trips to Malls or TV studios. It was by way of Field trips that I first saw provinces and beaches and museums and today’s students need to be taken away from their internet world and brought out to reality. To support that, revisit the Holiday Economics that Senator Richard Gordon promoted during his time as Tourism secretary. Four-day weekend are better spent for tourism than sitting in the EDSA parking lot!

After fixing the counter-productive EOs and DOs, the next thing that needs to be reviewed and realigned are the tourism related taxes and charges such as “Travel tax,” terminal fees, VAT/sales tax etc. There should be one tax where all the money can be collected, managed and held in escrow as a standby “Calamity fund.” The government seriously needs to study and create safety nets and calamity funds generated from tourism to save tourism. DOT and Congress can work out a way for all of this to be consolidated or dedicated as a “Calamity fund” to subsidize promotional airfares, boat fares and tour bus fares. By lowering prices we bring in tourists who in turn can pay a tourism tax, spend money and buy products and services. The boat and bus subsidies in turn would encourage Pinoys to travel and stimulate local tourism, employment and the economy.

Last, while it hurts to see a major drop in inbound tourists, the situation confronts us with our over dependence and bias for foreign tourists over local tourists who have even been given the monicker “Turistang Kanin”. Many establishment operate at price levels that are stiff or expensive for Filipinos and not necessarily cheap for foreign tourists either. We forget that the Philippines is uniquely  situated as an island group away from the tourism belt of Southeast Asia requiring travelers to pay extra to reach us. That added cost and standard rates  plus COVID 19 all combine to lessen the attraction. While operators and airlines have “Tried” to attract Filipinos with promos and gimmicks, that is all they have done. Sorry but I strongly believe that industry leaders, executives and owners need to give Filipino tourists RESPECT. By this I mean recognizing them for the Contribution they make and their collective potential to boost tourism by way of giving them value at their price point on a long term basis and not just when it’s off season or when disaster has struck the industry regionally or locally. Don’t treat Filipinos like cattle in your airlines treating them cheaply because they paid cheap, or like children playing spin the wheel in the hope of getting a really good deal by staying up to 1 am online or making them wait a whole year and fighting thousands of people at the annual travel mart! There are 110 million of us who have a collective buying power to keep your bottom lines afloat. Don’t treat us as SECOND CHOICE tourists in the Philippines and perhaps we will all travel even more.

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