It’s Visit PH Year
Practically every local government unit in the country now thinks of tourism as part of its future” is the winning thought expressed by Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez in the course of discussing “Visit the Philippines Year” (VPY) 2015. He is upbeat about this year’s prospects given how the idea of tourism has been accepted, indeed embraced, by grassroots communities as a means of livelihood and, ultimately of “having power over their lives.”
We can think of many such communities nationwide, such as the sleepy fishing village of Donsol in Sorsogon which landed on the tourism map thanks to the “gentle giants” in its waters. Donsol has made of its whale shark tours a community activity that is not only an opportunity for profit but also an educational lesson in nature conservation. Cabgan, an 85-hectare island in the protected Clarin Group of Islands Wilderness Area in Bohol, will soon offer an ecotourism tour run by residents that will bring visitors to see mangroves, flying foxes and rare birds, and also to come to grips with the importance of protecting those species. Pink-sand beaches, big surf waves and rock formations in Northern Samar; dive sites, among the world’s best, in Tubbataha, Anilao, Coron, Apo Reef and Apo Island… Nature attractions are stuff that the Philippines has in spades, and the local people have been and are being trained to appreciate these and show these off to local and foreign visitors skillfully and responsibly.
It’s a great time to visit the Philippines, says Jimenez in an interview with ANC. He ticks off some of the archipelago’s built-in advantages: “more vivid encounters with nature” (as opposed to temperate countries), a festival for practically every day of the year, and that great draw—Filipinos’ ability to speak the English language. Plus: “The people are now more emotionally prepared for tourism, it’s just the facilities we have to worry about.”
There is admittedly much to do regarding that last part. Jimenez cites the need for “more flights” and “better airports,” a point with which travelers, local and foreign, would undoubtedly agree. “We need to improve connectivity,” he says, and that’s not only in terms of modes of transport but also in terms of marketing communication. Awareness is key, in other words. A “major impediment” to tourism is ignorance, he points out.
To our mind infrastructure remains the biggest concern, with the Philippines’ many airports still in need of refurbishing and modernization, and rest rooms at tourist stops all over the country needing improvement. Local tourist guides and their support groups require proper education and training to sustain the advances they’ve made. The locals also need to understand and act on their role as protectors of the very landmarks that draw visitors. Bottom line: There is need to ensure that VPY 2015 is no empty promise, not least because the Philippines is hosting Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings and conferences throughout the year.
The Philippines actually braced itself for a seriously bad year after China issued an advisory to its nationals—one of the biggest contributors of tourist revenues—against traveling to the country because of the security situation. But the Philippines actually experienced a 3.25-percent growth in tourist arrivals in 2014, according to Jimenez, with 4.83 million tourist arrivals due to booming markets in Japan, Taiwan and the United States. “The number of foreign arrivals declined because of China and [‘Yolanda’], but we were able to improve our product offering. We actually made more money. Our revenue was so strong,” he says.
The Department of Tourism is poised to do better with VPY 2015, which succeeds the successful “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign. “We want to sustain the campaign. We have an obligation to freshen it up and generate the same traction when it was new,” Jimenez says. “Foreign tourists are staying longer in the Philippines and they are also coming from countries farther away.” He also cites the bright note of Turkish Airlines, “one of the largest airlines in the world,” doing business in the country.
And there is now a growing number of government officials who view tourism as an effort to eliminate poverty in the country, says Jimenez. With the Aquino administration now on legacy mode, this puts a critical perspective on the effort.
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