Tourism program needs public-private support
Northwestern University professor Philip Kotler wrote in his book “Marketing Places”: “The fortunes of places depend in the final analysis on the collaboration of the public and private sectors — teamwork among government units, business firms, voluntary and civic associations, and marketing organizations. Unlike purely business or commercial product marketing, place marketing requires the active support of public and private agencies, interest groups, and citizens.”
The misfortune of our tourism industry is the lack of that teamwork, as evidenced by the sad state of our tourist destinations.
As a fellow of the De La Salle-Angelo King Institute of Economic and Business Studies in 2004, I was commissioned, under a grant from the US Agency for International Development, to conduct a study of the tourism industry with a view to identifying areas of adjustments and upgrading. Among my findings were the common negative comments of tourists, like poor security measures for visitors, low standards of international and domestic airports, shabby bus terminals and seaports, unsafe roads to tourist destinations, thickly polluted environment, and lack of accommodations of international standards.
One of my recommendations was for the appointment of an accomplished marketing person or seasoned politician as tourism secretary; the former would know that only a good product will sell, and the latter, how to gain the cooperation of government agencies in the development of attractive tourist destinations with the required infrastructure.
I hailed the appointment of Bertie Lim as tourism secretary in 2010: He was coming from the tourism industry, he was with El Nido Resorts and Amanpulo when appointed, and he had two master’s degrees — in business administration and in public administration, both from Harvard.
As nothing much had changed in the tourism industry from the time I did the study in 2004 to the time Bertie was named tourism secretary, I sent him the executive summary of my report. I was surprised when his team launched the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” advertising campaign just four months after Bertie had taken over the Department of Tourism. I had expected him and his team to first remove the roadblocks to the growth of Philippine tourism before coming up with a new ad story. I remember Bertie asking me during the roundtable discussion of my report in 2004 if the tourism secretary should not develop the product first so the tourists can get value for money.
Bertie’s reform program, particularly his open-skies policy, didn’t sit well with the people that held sway in the tourism industry. They convinced PNoy to replace him. My hopes for a major upgrading of the industry were dashed when Ramon Jimenez, an advertising man, was appointed to head the DOT. I feared that advertising would become his priority. True to my expectations, shortly after he took over the DOT, he launched his own ad campaign, “It’s more fun in the Philippines.”
To be fair, the authority of the tourism secretary does not extend beyond the realm of advertising and selling. But Jimenez did try to upgrade the infrastructure. He had a convergence program with then Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson. Roads to far-flung destinations were built. But then Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya never signed a convergence program with Jimenez. While the tourism secretary was a member of the boards of the Civil Aviation Authority and the Manila International Airport, he could do nothing about the upgrading of airports.
I was elated when shortly after the Duterte administration began its term, Wanda Teo, the new tourism secretary, announced that she would reactivate and convene the Tourism Coordinating Council to address the deterrents to the growth of Philippine tourism. The TCC, composed of officials of nine government agencies headed by the tourism secretary, is tasked to ensure the smooth implementation of the tourism program—the teamwork referred to by Kotler.
Obviously, the TCC had been unable to perform its task. Boracay, our premier tourism destination, has become a cesspool.
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Oscar P. Lagman Jr. taught marketing subjects at the Asian Institute of Management and the De La Salle and Ateneo graduate schools of business. He is a part-time professor in the Master of Science in Tourism and Hospitality Management program of De La Salle–College of St. Benilde.
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