Tourism as economic lodestar

Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco. PHOTO BY: RENE H. DILANTourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco. PHOTO BY: RENE H. DILAN

Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco. PHOTO BY: RENE H. DILAN

AT the unveiling of the 2023-2028 National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP), the Department of Tourism (DoT) vowed to “establish a Philippine tourism industry anchored on Filipino culture, heritage and identity, which aims to be sustainable, resilient and competitive in order to transform the Philippines into a tourism powerhouse in Asia.”

The endpoint is for the Philippines to be a tourism powerhouse in the next five years. The roadmap identified seven measures to achieve this goal, with improving tourism infrastructure and accessibility as one of the priorities.

“The overall target is the transformation of the tourism industry of the Philippines, which is why we have embarked on the objective of not just focusing on the promotion of tourism but more importantly on the development of industry from the ground up focusing not just on our key destinations, but also on our emerging and lesser-known destinations,” said Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco.

“We can only truly transform the Philippine tourism industry if we address the prevailing challenges that we face continually across our regions,” she added.

On connectivity, Frasco said the DoT was working with the Department of Transportation to negotiate more routes for air and sea travel. They should also encourage hotels and lodging places to slash their rates by at least 10 percent or more. Philippine lodging places are some of the most expensive in the region, although not necessarily the best.

Moreover, under the NTDP, Frasco said the DoT would focus on digitalization; enhancement of the overall tourist experience by promoting sustainable travel; and improvement of safety and security in destinations, among others.

The agency would also tap local government units in developing more tourist sites and linking emerging ones to key destinations. She said the government will increase investments in creating “high-value” tourism experiences and announced the May 2023 launch of the Philippine Experience.

The program, which aims to highlight heritage and culture unique to every region in the country, will have pilot campaigns in Davao, the Ilocos Region, Bicol and Calabarzon. The program, Frasco said, would include a three to five-day tour package allowing tourists to experience both well-known and lesser-known destinations in said regions.

“This NTDP will serve as a blueprint for the strategies on how the Department of Tourism intends to continue and to grow the impact of tourism upon our economy in the next few years. This will be the guidebook of the industry where we put in place mechanisms for sustainability for many years to come,” Frasco said.

The DoT seeks to reach 4.8 million foreign visitors by end of 2023. This follows the positive momentum set in 2022, which successfully closed with 2.65 million visitors that translated to P214 billion, or roughly $4 billion, in estimated revenues.

Best tourism blueprints

The best tourism blueprints in Southeast Asia can be found in Malaysia and Thailand which like the Philippines have many natural attractions. They encouraged travel via air-conditioned buses and thus built pit stops with clean toilets, food stalls and souvenir stalls in strategic locations beside the highways. They also encouraged tourism establishments to have clean toilets and décor that highlighted local culture and traditions. Local music was also played in these tourist areas.

Tourist policemen were assigned to patrol the areas with the biggest concentrations of tourists. Tourist information centers were also set up, where well-informed people worked and distributed brochures, maps and online links to visitors.

Moreover, Malaysia gives a free visa of 30 days for all visitors from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), while Thailand has granted 45 days for all Asean visitors since November last year, to boost visitor intake. On the other hand, the Philippines gives a visa of 21 days for all Asean visitors, which has been a cause for complaint from Southeast Asian visitors.

The Department of Tourism can also join more international tourism and trade fairs across Asia and Europe. They had an affordable campaign several years ago, when the buses in London were draped with images of Philippine seas, sun and sand at the beginning of autumn and winter. The vivid images were the talk of the town, and helped increase the intake of tourists from that gray land. More smart campaigns like this could be done to invite tourists to our beautiful country.

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