Protect our guests

PERCEPTIONS - Ariel Nepomuceno - The Philippine Star

Tourism is the lifeblood of emerging economies such as ours. Aside from providing foreign tourists with adequate infrastructure to pamper them with convenience and memorable experience, we must do everything to ensure their safety. All our guests reasonably assume that they are free from harm; otherwise, they would hesitate to visit us and instead, they will fly to other destinations.

The most recent manhandling of a South Korean lady in the posh Bonifacio Global City (BGC) must be treated with alarm. The victim, few days ago, was confidently going to cross the street in this usually safe district, when three women, accompanied by one male, allegedly pushed her and took her valuables. The Korean was even bitten in her arm during the violent tussle for her bag. She also suffered a fractured bone as a result of this embarrassing incident.

Fortunately, and we are thankful, the police officers in the area were able to successfully apprehend one of the three women suspects. According to the report, she has already pointed out her other accomplices. Furthermore, this modus did not happen for the first time. Again, BGC has an overwhelming number of alert and professional security guards, and they are assisted by mostly diligent lady police officers who were well oriented by the former PNP chief Debold Sinas.

Problem is, if this could happen in an upscale commercial area, what can we expect in other communities frequented by foreigners?

Huge number of foreign guests must be a boon, not bane.  According to the reports, we had 5.45 million guests in 2023. However, this means that we were responsible for the well-being of 5.45 million lives while they were here. Such is the inherent responsibility of the host country to their visitors.

We expect that there will be further significant improvements in the attention being given to us by the international market. This is mainly due to the marketing campaign being managed by the team of Department of Tourism Secretary Frasco, who showcases the natural beauty of our unique vacation spots, competitive costs and known hospitality of Filipinos.

Great if most, if not all, of our foreign visitors would share good words to their friends and relatives about our country and our people. Then, the ideal “word of mouth” endorsement will help in attracting more tourists to our sites. This will mean more income and growing interest even in businesses or investments.

The virtuous cycle can change the lives of those directly involved in the hospitality or tourism industry. In fact, there are at least 5.3 million Filipinos who are directly and indirectly engaged in the tourism industry.

In the process, the economy, in general, will benefit from entertaining and taking care of other nationals who have trusted us for a brief stay. Data show that we earned P1.38 trillion from tourists in 2023. This is 36.9 percent higher compared to the P1 trillion income in 2021. This is 6.2 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

On the other hand, if horror tales such as what happened in BGC would overwhelm the better stories, then this industry might suffer a crippling blow. Let’s hope that everyone, especially the national and local enforcement agencies, can immediately curb and end the crimes being committed against our foreign tourists.

We have been known for our extraordinary hospitality. We are natural entertainers and show genuine concern to our guests, such as offering the master’s room to transients just to assure the comfort needed and the sense of high value accorded to visitors. The few uncaring criminals who lurk and wait for the chance to hurt and rob our foreign guests must be stopped before they are able to inflict irreversible damage to the industry.

Additional measures and systems must be in place to protect tourists. Both the national and local government must complement their efforts for the common objective of protecting the welfare of guests while they are in our country. For example, more blue guards can be contracted to provide a force multiplier contingent to the regular police force. Aside from the protection that they will give, this program can generate jobs at least for the personnel that will be hired. They can offer the additional deterrence against criminals. Then also, more “tourist police” can be visibly deployed in our known tourist destinations. More CCTVs in these areas would also effectively help. We can carefully consider some legislative solutions that can possibly impose stiffer penalties, or aggravating clauses, on our penal laws when it comes to offending foreign tourists.

Our country is undergoing an arduous transition towards economic progress where everyone will someday be free from the threats of hunger and poverty. We must remove all the hurdles that will cause any setback to this long journey. A vibrant tourism industry can be one of the means that will create enough national wealth for everyone. Let’s protect this gem.

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