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As I See It
Open skies, tourism logos and slogans

By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:47:00 11/22/2010

Filed Under: Air Transport, FAA downgrade, Tourism, Government, Books

APPARENTLY, TOURISM Secretary Alberto Lim is one of the ?lightweights? in P-Noy?s Cabinet that Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago may be referring to. Many of the characters in the President?s official family are lightweights, according to the feisty senator, who considers herself a heavyweight when it comes to brain matter. P-Noy himself seems to confirm this when he thumbed down the new tourism logo and slogan of the Department of Tourism (DoT) and told Lim to come up with new ideas?if he is capable of it.

One of Lim?s older, but also unpopular, ideas was the ?open skies? policy for the Philippines which he had advocated way back when he was among the leaders of a group of Filipinos in agreement with the US government and US airlines that allowing foreign carriers to fly into Philippine air space at any time would be good for us.

The simplistic logic is that if foreign airlines can fly into the Philippines at any time, they would bring in tourists who would add to our foreign exchange coffers. It is not that simple, however.

Air space is a very important resource that all countries guard. They allow foreign airlines to fly into their air space only in exchange for allowing their own airlines to fly into the other country. I let you fly here, you let my planes fly there is the quid pro quo.

Air rights are granted on the basis of reciprocity, and only after protracted negotiations and bargaining between countries because the airline industry is very competitive, what with the increasing costs of running an airline and the declining number of passengers. Many big airlines have already folded up and many more are surviving only because their respective governments are subsidizing them.

National flag carriers are an important tool for nations to be known in the world. Any airliner flying into another country with the flag and name of its home country painted on its fuselage is an advertisement and promoter for that country. Tourists are oftentimes attracted to visit a country through its national airline. That is the reason many nations subsidize their flag carriers, to keep them working as flying advertisements. And that is also the reason why all nations do not readily open their skies to foreign airlines. The Philippines is the only nation that has done that.

What open skies will most likely do is kill our own flag carriers?already struggling with rising fuel costs and declining number of passengers?without, however, bringing in tourists by foreign airlines as the present DoT, and Bert Lim, are trying to sell to us.

Tourists do not go to another country just because their own country has planes flying there. First, they have to be attracted to the sights, sounds, culture, comfortability, costs, nature, etc. of the tourist spot. Only after they have decided where to go do they begin looking for an airline. And when they do not see a flag carrier of a country at their own airports, they won?t even know that such and such a country exists.

?Open skies? was a concept being pushed by the United States because it has the biggest number of airlines in the world. It wants its carriers to be able to fly anywhere in the world at any time without, however, giving other airlines the same rights as a gesture of reciprocity. On the contrary, the US is putting up stumbling blocks to the entry of foreign carriers, such as the downgrading to Category 2 of Philippine Airlines which had bought several new planes precisely to fly to the US but which it cannot now use because of the downgrading.

In fact, we already have a de facto ?open skies? policy, largely through the efforts of the US and its Filipino friends like Bert Lim. Many foreign airlines already have many landing rights here. But at the same time, our flag carriers have not been accorded the same rights in the countries where these foreign carriers come from.

Have these foreign airlines brought more tourists to the Philippines? No!

What these foreign airlines are doing is to poach on the passengers of our flag carriers. They are flying out passengers from the Philippines instead of flying in passengers from other countries.

Ironically, we have many attractions that Western tourists dream about: tiny South Sea islands with white beaches, swaying palms and azure skies and seas. They abound in the South. When I covered the reelection campaign by sea of President Diosdado Macapagal in the Visayas and Mindanao, I saw many of these islets beckoning like jewels in the blue seas. Westerners can only dream of this combination of sun, sea, surf and sand but they are a reality in the Philippines.

Except for Boracay, however, which is already too overcrowded and commercialized, Westerners are not even aware of these paradise-islands. Bert Lim and the DoT should be developing and promoting these islands as tourist destinations instead of copying other countries? tourism logos and the names of popular television programs.

When the Westerners become aware of them, they would come here in droves even without ?open skies.?

* * *

CORRECTION: In a previous column, I wrote that copies of retired Press Undersecretary Carmen Suva?s memoirs on her 40 years in Malacaang are being sold at the Popular Book Store. That was incorrect. Ching?s book, ?From Macapagal to Macapagal-Arroyo, My 40 Years in Malacaang,? is being sold at the National Book Store and Powerbooks.

Ching has served under six Presidents (Macapagal, Marcos, Cory Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, Macapagal-Arroyo), more than a dozen press secretaries and got acquainted with scores of Malacaang reporters. Her memoirs contain many interesting vignettes and anecdotes about the people who lived and worked in Malacaang. You will never forgive yourself if you fail to read her book.

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