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Tourism ready to stand as economy’s 3rd brace

THE tourism sector is poised to stand as the third leg of the economy, which has been propped up by remittances from Filipino migrant workers and income generated by the business process outsourcing sector. This was the plan of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who earlier identified tourism as a so-called low-hanging fruit that could help the Philippines recover faster from the economic impact of the pandemic.

Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia FrascoTourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco

Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco
Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco

At a recent forum of The Manila Times, Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco said the sector contributed 12.9 percent to the economy before Covid-19. Remittances from migrant workers and income from the outsourcing sector each contributed about 10 percent.

Besides “revenge travel,” Frasco said local tourism has also been growing, and that sector has generated some 5.2 million jobs. The sector was also helpful to social amelioration programs, with tourism receipts projected to reach some P1.8 trillion this year.

Recently, the Department of Tourism (DoT) released a new Tourism Development Plan that not only lays out a roadmap for the sector. The plan also has provisions for sustainability. It was reassuring to hear Mrs. Frasco mentioned that the DoT is coordinating with other government departments to develop the infrastructure needed to realize the full potential of the sector, such as land transportation networks and world-class airports.

Another good development was the decision to allow e-visas for tourists. This could be a game changer because requiring prospective tourists to personally appear before Philippine embassies and consulates seems impractical and turn away travelers. This policy shift helps the Philippines become more competitive relative to tourist magnets in Southeast Asia, like Thailand and Singapore.

Work in progress

Even with the developments mentioned here, more needs to be done to fully tap tourism. One area that requires improvement is air connectivity.

In that regard, the Senate should ratify the air agreement with India that was signed during the Duterte administration. It seems odd that the Philippines does not have an air agreement with a country that is on track to become the world's third-biggest economy.

The world's largest economy, China, is also an important tourist market. But based on history, that can be affected by geopolitical issues.

On a positive note, tourism can also serve as a diplomatic tool to promote better understanding between China and the Philippines and contribute to peace in the region.

More on connectivity, the authorities should revisit an open skies policy that had been proposed long ago. That policy could be an alternative to air agreements, which takes time to negotiate. If local airlines and policymakers are worried about the resulting increase in competition, the authorities could test “pocket” open skies before full liberalization.

On a related note, policymakers should also review the Philippine implementation of Asean Single Aviation Market (ASAM). Asean is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional bloc of 10 countries that includes the Philippines.

Proponents of a single aviation market argue that it benefits tourism throughout Southeast Asia, as well as trade and investments by making travel within the region easier. ASAM allows airlines to make additional stops in Asean after landing at a primary destination in the region, privileges that were allowed only with certain freedom rights in air agreements.

ASAM was expected to boost travel and tourism to the Philippines, but policymakers had excluded Manila from the agreement. Granted, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport already operates beyond capacity, but the government can now promote some of its newly improved international gateways, like Cebu and Clark.

Tourists do not only arrive aboard airplanes. Policymakers should also review an open seas policy to help attract cruises to regularly dock in the Philippines. But like in aviation, the government needs better infrastructure and more personnel to process arriving and departing tourists.

Granted, the Philippines actually needs to develop as many legs as possible to build a stronger economy. The country has many underperforming sectors that, if turned around, could also drive the country faster toward becoming an upper-middle-income economy.

The authorities should explore those, but tourism is already ripe for the taking.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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