Tourism represents the Philippines’ brightest hopes and its most formidable challenges. Despite the realities on the ground, the country was described in the World Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report 2013 as among “the rising stars in emerging market economies” in travel and tourism (T&T).

The Philippines jumped a stunning 12 places from 94th out of 140 countries in 2012 to 82nd in 2013. The WEF report cited “policy improvements supporting the industry,” which also landed the country in 16th place in the Southeast Asian region. “The government spending on the sector as a percentage of GDP (gross domestic product) is now first in the world and tourism marketing and branding campaigns are seen to be increasingly effective,” the report said.

There seems to be no stopping the Philippines as it takes its place among the world’s top travel destinations. This is as it should be, given its many beautiful sites and wonders (the rice terraces in the north, for only one example, and the excellent dive spots, for another), and despite the many problems that remain (the state of its international airports, the lack of infrastructure, the continuing crime situation, etc.). Indeed, the WEF report warned that the Philippines still had glaring needs to be addressed, including crucial areas like safety and security, inadequate hygiene, underdeveloped ground transport, among others—needs that “are holding back the potential of the country’s T&T competitiveness.”

But work is being done in these areas. The Department of Tourism’s “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign is making waves. Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez must be doing something really good, and/or word of mouth among pleased tourists is in high gear. Noteworthy is the fact that President Aquino has taken the crucial step of exempting foreign air carriers operating in the Philippines from “discriminatory” taxes.

He signed Republic Act No. 10374 last week in Davao City, removing the common carriers tax and gross Philippine billings imposed on foreign airlines—a move that is hoped to encourage these airlines to fly into the country, particularly those who had suspended direct service to Manila. “This will actually mean an initial loss in revenue for us but it is ultimately a strategic move. Airlines have long asked for this measure since it will bring in more traffic and facilitate connectivity among our countries,” Mr. Aquino said. “With this [law], everybody wins: from our aviation industries to our tourism industries, to the millions of our people who will have greater freedom in planning their trips.”

Every bit helps. After all, the President displayed supreme confidence in the tourism sector when he raised domestic tourism targets for 2016 to 56.1 million travelers from the original goal of 35.5 million. Meanwhile, DOT data show that foreign tourist traffic in the first half of 2012 was up 11.68 percent—2.14 million foreign visitors from 1.92 million in 2011. (But even with the rosy numbers, Jimenez said the country should not be overly aggressive because its tourism infrastructure is still a work in progress. “We are calibrating the demand [for hotel rooms and other tourism facilities] because we might bust the machine,” he said.)

The private sector is playing its part. San Miguel Corp. president Ramon Ang has proposed the building of a privately funded, four-runway international airport close to Makati City. “We believe that our proposal to build a world-class international airport closer to the National Capital Region complements the government’s infrastructure master plan,” he said.

We must continue to harp on the work still to be done by the Philippine government to deserve, maintain and even raise the exciting ratings, not least in the peace and order situation (the killing on Friday of a Frenchman in an early-morning robbery in Pasay City is reprehensible), and especially in the preservation and conservation of our tourist sites, to hold the monster of overdevelopment at bay (think Boracay).

The DOT and the national government have been pushing T&T as a revenue-earner. At the end of the day, more than anyone else, it is the people who should benefit from all these moves, perhaps in terms of jobs created and the culture and natural resources preserved.

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Tags: editorial , opinion , T&T , Tourism , travel , World Economic Forum

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