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$$$, not people

/ 05:12 AM August 15, 2019

The focus of Philippine tourism efforts is wrong. All the targets and records focus on how many tourists the country attracts. We don’t want people, we want their money.

Its nice to welcome backpackers, young people seeking adventure. Young people who might later become the rich people we really want. This doesn’t mean we won’t welcome them, but they should not be our focus. We want those who are well-off now, and preferably ones who’ll care for our environment and be mindful of our customs.

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There’s a sign in a beautiful old town in Greece that says it all: “RESPECT: It’s your holiday, but it’s our home. We welcome you. Please respect Oia. Thank you.” Sadly, too many of the tourists we are attracting now do anything but that. Perhaps a pamphlet handed to all arriving tourists laying down our rules and code of conduct, written in their language, should be handed out at immigration.

And let’s do something un-Filipino. When we see a tourist acting inconsiderately, tell them not to. If they drop a coffee cup, tell them to pick it up and dispose of it properly. The trouble with that is, where? I’ve argued endlessly for rubbish bins to be put everywhere. In malls, on streets, on beaches — everywhere. I still have to search in some remote corner to find a bin in a mall. Is there some reason for this that I don’t understand? Why not allow young artists to decorate them so they’re not an eyesore, but a joy? They should be like fire extinguishers (I don’t see them either) — highly visible, quickly accessible and lots of them around.

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Malthus, an English cleric and scholar in the 18th century, argued that, left unchecked, a population will outgrow its resources. We saw that in spades in the cesspool that Boracay became. We see that in a world where 7 billion people, predicted to rise to 10 billion, are decimating the resources of planet Earth. Mind you, Malthus was wrong in not recognizing that technology and changing living patterns would not lead to the disaster he predicted — yet. But he was right in that a territorial space can only support a given number of people. Our resorts can only handle a limited number of people.

So apply limits such as limiting the number of rooms available at a resort. And please stop those dreadful monstrosities called cruise ships. They disgorge hundreds of people who engulf a resort, but spend little. I know I’m at odds on this one, as many actually enjoy being in a prison they can’t escape with hundreds, even thousands of others. I’ll never understand it. But apart from maybe a meal and a few souvenirs, what benefits do they bring?

The recent international ads on TV are beautifully designed — and designed to meet people’s dream vacation. “IT’S MORE FUN IN THE PHILIPPINES” was so well conjured by Mon Jimenez when he was tourism secretary. It defines the Philippines perfectly, so it’s wise that it’s been retained by Berna Romulo Puyat. But maybe there should be one that focuses on older people, too, the ones with money; and even older people who are looking for somewhere to retire.

We have a country overflowing with beautiful beaches in a tropical clime. Boracay, lovely as it is, is by no means the only one. Siargao, which we visited on my 80th birthday, has charming resorts and international-level restaurants run by foreign chefs who’d fallen in love, and stayed. We have a country full of such lovely places.

Palawan has the kind of up-market resorts like El Nido that we should be building and promoting where you need money to go. But to go there, you need a plane. So it’s good that this administration is upgrading provincial airports, although I don’t understand why they unbundled the five regional airports they intend to modernize. Putting them out to individual bidding made them financially unviable; possible proponents lost interest, so the needed upgrading hasn’t happened. Maybe it’s time for the Department of Transportation to rethink its strategy here.

Las Vegas and Macau grew not only on gambling, but also on entertainment. Some of the world’s best performers hold shows there. I’ll never forget the Rolling Stones in concert in Macau. We’ll travel for a concert, and I’m sure many other people will, too. It can be the tipping point. “Darling, do we go to Bali or Boracay?” “Let’s make it Boracay, the Queen is performing in Manila.”

Let’s attract the well-off, and measure our success on the dollars we earn annually, not the number of people who come here.

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TAGS: Like It Is, Peter Wallace, Philippine Tourism
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