Big boost for tourism
Tourism is one sector that is getting much-needed attention lately from the government and the private sector. This is a good thing for what has been regarded as low-hanging fruit insofar as expanding the economy and generating jobs are concerned.
Tourists spent about $6 billion while in the Philippines in 2016. That might sound huge, but it pales in comparison with figures concerning some of our neighbors.
Tourism in Southeast Asia generated revenues of $119.7 billion in 2016, and this is expected by the World Travel and Tourism Council to rise by 7.3 percent in 2017 and by 5.7 percent a year until 2027 to $222.8 billion.
The latest World Tourism Barometer of the United Nations World Tourism Organization also noted a jump in the Philippines’ ranking to 45th from 49th in terms of tourist arrivals at 5.9 million visitors.
But despite the improvement, the Philippines still was behind its neighbors Thailand, which was ranked 9th with 32.6 million visitors; Malaysia, at 12th with 26.8 million visitors; and Singapore, at 28th with 12.9 million visitors. Indonesia was at 35th and Vietnam was at 37th.
Access to our tourist destinations has long been a problem cited by stakeholders. Many foreign tourists were exasperated by the difficulty of reaching pristine beaches and other natural wonders in the Philippines given that nearly all international flights land at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
It is thus a welcome development that the private sector is now taking the initiative to develop regional airports. Last week, Aboitiz Equity Ventures Inc. submitted to the government an unsolicited proposal for four regional gateways: Iloilo International Airport, Bacolod-Silay Airport, Laguindingan Airport, and New Bohol International Airport in Panglao. The group offered to spend P148 billion and sought a 35-year concession to operate those airports.
Another positive development on the tourism front has been President Duterte’s drive to clean up world-renowned tourist destinations in Boracay, Mindoro, Bohol and Palawan, which have
deteriorated following the unabated mushrooming of facilities and structures, as well as the congestion brought by the millions of tourists flocking to these places.
The local government of Malay, which covers Boracay, has declared a six-month moratorium on construction on the island. The unregulated construction of hotels, resorts and other establishments has caused environmental problems on Boracay, which drew two million tourists in 2017.
The President has set a six-month deadline for government agencies and the local government to solve the environmental problems of the island.
The local government units of other island destinations like El Nido in Palawan and Panglao in Bohol were also directed to start cleaning up their areas and not wait to be censured by the President. Local officials were specifically ordered to enforce the law, particularly the setback requirements for beaches, and to demolish all structures that violate these setback rules. Mr. Duterte has also warned local courts not to interfere by issuing restraining orders.
The local government of Palawan has also been ordered to immediately demolish illegal structures built along El Nido town’s foreshore in violation of zoning and easement laws.
Findings by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources show that most of the commercial establishments in the town had violated environmental and zoning laws.
The DENR has also targeted violators of environmental laws in the tourist town of Puerto Galera in Oriental Mindoro. It is particularly concerned about sewage problems and the poor water quality in Sabang Bay and in White Beach, where water sampling conducted over the past six years showed high levels of coliform contamination in the bay.
Prospects are indeed brightening for Philippine tourism. It is time the government and the private sector worked together to promote the country’s beautiful natural attractions. Cleaning up these destinations and developing airports for easier tourist access are the necessary steps in the right direction. These should have been done decades ago.
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