“To travel is to live.” This famous quote from Hans Christian Anderson inspired millions of people to travel abroad and live the life, turning tourism into one of the most profitable industries for more than a hundred years.
The Philippines is one of the countries that have benefitted from tourism. The government sees tourism as one of the highest drivers of its economy. The Philippine Statistics Authority’s reports show that the tourism sector contributed 8.2 percent to the economy in 2015; that year’s total of PhP1,093.1 billion is higher by 14.8 percent than the previous year’s PhP952.2 billion.
The country has beautiful islands and beaches, good tropical weather, lush mountains, tasty food and hospitable people. It is also the most accessible when it comes to English as 90 percent speak the international language. Philippines was even tagged as one of 2015’s best retirement places in the world by Forbes Magazine.
In 2014, the country attracted around 4.8 million tourists, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.
The challenge now is how the country can capitalize on these while there are still opportunities that can be grabbed in the tourism and travel sector and also how can the country maximize the industry’s potential for growth.
Recently, however, there is a recent move to change the slogan, “It’s more fun in the Philippines” as part of the new tourism department’s campaign to reflect the platforms of the current administration and still promote the attractiveness of the country to visitors. But proper branding is not even the most immediate tourist concern.
Although the Philippines boasts a wealth of natural resources, it still needs to improve in many aspects especially in the areas of doing business, safety and security, health and hygiene, infrastructure, and information and communications technology.
On doing business. Despite the efforts of government agencies to smoothen and ease the conduct and establishment of business here , the whole process remains relatively costly and burdensome. In fact, the Philippines has dropped a few notches in the World Bank’s Doing Business ranking. Hopefully, this will change as the government ventures into automation to improve delivery of services to encourage more information technology and business process outsourcing companies to set up here.
On safety and security. Just last year, the United States issued a travel warning for the Sulu area due to terrorism. Currently, the anti-drug violence campaign has resulted in numerous deaths that may affect the country’s attractiveness to tourism. This even prompted the Tourism Secretary to appeal to the media to “tone down” reports on extrajudicial killings to help boost tourism in the country.
On sanitation. Clean environment, proper disposal of waste, and good toilet facilities are basic to public health and tourism and may influence a country’s reputation as a tourist destination. Unfortunately, in the Philippines, there is public areas and tourist hot spots that are wanting in sanitation.
On infrastructure. The present condition of Philippine airports is still problematic. The necessity to improve both international and domestic airports in the country is readily apparent. Thankfully, the upgrade of secondary international airports in Clark, Mactan, and Bohol are already in progress. However, most options for ground and sea transport remain limited, and the routes to most tourist destinations remain undeveloped.
On information and communications technology. The local cost of Internet access is one of the highest in the world despite the relatively slow broadband speed. The telecommunications industry is largely monopolized by a few major providers. The plan to provide a nationwide free Wi-Fi is yet a very remote possibility.
Overall, efforts to develop the Philippines’ growing tourism sector must touch on addressing a number of the country’s basic problems. In this way, the focus should not only be simply branding or creating a catchy slogan but ultimately improving the conditions that would make the Philippines a better place to visit.
Atty. Charity P. Mandap-de Veyra is a tax manager at the Cebu and Davao Branches of Punongbayan & Araullo. P&A is a leading audit, tax, advisory and outsourcing services firm and is the Philippine member of Grant Thornton International Ltd.
As published in Mindanao Times, dated on 5 April 2017