Tourism: We are good but other countries are doing better
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel O. Abalos (The Freeman) - November 4, 2019 - 12:00am

The long weekend is finally over. Capped by a four-day vacation and family reunions of urban dwellers in their provincial residences or preferred holiday destinations, it ended yesterday.

It culminated with a rush back home amidst throngs of vacationers who tried to compete for every available public transport space just to get a night rest before plunging into the usual regular day routines.

On the other hand, apart from the crowded beaches, those who preferred to remain in the metropolis enjoyed roads totally devoid of traffic jams and illegally parked vehicles. Though few, the scarcity of public transport presented a little concern for those who pay homage to their dearly departed.

Clearly, long weekends, just what we had, tell us that the potentials of tourism cannot be overlooked. The fact is, even if some countries in the world maybe in chaos, globally, tourism has continued to flourish. A survey published by the World Economic Forum (The Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report 2019) confirms this. According to the report, “in 2018, the industry helped generate 10.4% of world GDP and a similar share of employment, and has shown enormous resilience over the last decade.”

It further reported that “fueling this expansion and relative resilience is the ongoing growth of the middle-class in Asia and other parts of the world.”  “In the coming decade, industry contribution to GDP is expected to rise by nearly 50%”, it added.

So that, it comes as no surprise that other countries (both their government and private sectors) are heavily investing in this industry. Consequently, uniquely blessed with at least 7,100 islands, we aren’t letting this opportunity pass our way unnoticed. In fact, to both present and previous administrations’ credit, this is one industry the country is trying to develop to the max.

Sadly though, despite the efforts we’ve put in, the survey results aren’t that attractive or noticeable enough to draw foreign tourists. To recall, in the 2013 survey, the year we were adjudged as the “most improved country” in the Asia Pacific region, we were ranked 82nd overall (up 12 places compared to the 2011 survey).

Then, we improved dramatically in the 2014 survey as we placed 60th overall. Sadly though, other countries, especially in the ASEAN, likewise, improved their rankings. Consequently, in the recent survey (2019) where 140 economies are ranked, we belong to the bottom half. Frustratingly, at number 75 or 15 places down from the 2014 survey.

There is a glimmer of hope though especially in Central Visayas. As we all know, Cebu City just joined 65 other new cities in the world designated as UNESCO Creative Cities by the Director-General of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay. Therefore, it is now part of the UNESCO Creative Cities International Network of 246 cities all over the world. A positive development that will certainly put Cebu conspicuously in every prospective tourist’s planned trips.

Moreover, it is also laudable that Department of Tourism (DOT-7) regional director Shalimar Tamano is “crafting plans on how to inter-connect the islands and provinces within the region, to provide tourists with seamless travel experience, exploring the hundreds of high potential tourist magnet destinations in Central Visayas.”  This simply means that whatever Cebu City may be able to draw, tourism-wise, will also benefit the rest of the region.

More importantly, we should stop bragging about having long stretches of beaches as if we are the only country that has them. While it’s noteworthy, we must not forget that Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand have longer, cleaner and more serene beaches too. Yet, despite their natural gifts, they’ve developed theme parks, amusement parks and other places of interest.  Admittedly, that is the truth why, when compared with our ASEAN neighbors we are very much behind.

Why can’t we do the same? Probably, through private sector initiatives by giving them local tax breaks or incentives? Moreover, apart from the DOT-7’s recent initiatives, the LGUs must also make sure that these places of interest are reachable by providing the necessary infrastructure. Then, jointly, all tourism players (LGUs included) must make a collective effort in promoting these islands. The tour and travel operators, businessmen as they are, will certainly package tours if the products are saleable and reachable. That’s a no-brainer.

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