Wednesday, November 21, 2018
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At Large

Welcome tourists?

IF YOU had the means and the time, what country in the world would you visit?

Maybe not Afghanistan where there is a low-level war going on, or Syria, Libya, Iraq, or Egypt (and also Jordan and Yemen), where the Islamic State operates and carries out terroristic attacks. Then there’s Nigeria which the Boko Haram calls its headquarters, although it also operates in neighboring Chad and Cameroon. Even a country like Turkey, which provided a safe haven for Syrian refugees, is today on shaky grounds, after a coup attempt was violently suppressed.

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World-weary traveler-friends who regularly navigate the globe are even saying that these days it might even be risky to visit Europe, or at least any of the countries where IS terrorists or just neurotic “lone wolves” with Islamist sympathies have carried out a series of attacks. Although, if we are to follow the laws of logic and odds-makers, perhaps countries like France, Britain and Spain would by now be safe from any more incidents. At least, that is the hope.

But global tourism is a field where logic rarely operates. Despite the rising number of bombings and shootings, not to mention the instability created by waves of desperate refugees from Africa and the Middle East, Europe remains a tantalizing destination still. Tourists most probably are betting that the odds will fall in their favor, and that the madness will spare them while they’re enjoying the sights, the music, the sensational food.

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Closer to home, international tourists are said to have ranked in their list of preferred destinations in our neighborhood Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and, of course, Singapore. And judging by their relentless advertising on cable TV, the Indonesians are waging a determined campaign to elevate their islands to the top of the tourists’ itineraries.

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SO where does that leave the Philippines?

I have nothing but sympathy for Tourism Secretary Wanda Corazon Teo who must attract foreign arrivals in the midst of a spate of negative news on the Philippines. The news, now a favorite and frequent topic in the international media, accompanied by grisly images of corpses littering the streets of the country, paint the portrait of a land given over to violence and bloodshed.

If you were a tourist with time and discretionary income, would you choose our bloody streets over, say, the glittering avenues of Shanghai, the clean and orderly thoroughfares of Singapore, or the exotic markets of Vietnam?

Perhaps if tourists these days google “Philippines,” the first images they would see are of corpses displayed wantonly on the sidewalk, many of them wrapped in sacks or painstakingly covered in packing tape, the ubiquitous piece of cardboard proclaiming their involvement with drugs. The images are certainly not inviting, or appetizing.

And to make things worse, our leaders, led by our President, don’t seem at all inclined to put a stop to the summary executions and “accidental” shoot-outs. The bluster of Du30, along with the chu-wari-wari-wap of the police chief, does not indicate that this spate of violence will come to an end anytime soon. On the contrary, it seems that the wave of killings will even escalate, bringing the danger closer to ordinary citizens, many of whom have learned to cower at the slightest sound indicating the onset of police operations.

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THE country’s image before the world—and its tarnished reputation as a peaceful and welcoming place—is a problem that cannot be solved  by an advertising campaign, or even a concerted PR effort.

No amount of attractive TV commercials featuring our scenery or fiestas can quell the unease of outsiders looking on from far away. Not even the holding of the Miss Universe beauty pageant here, scheduled for early next year, can entirely erase the unspoken fears of likely visitors. Lord knows what the impact on our national reputation would be if one of the contestants were to be kidnapped or harassed by any of our homegrown terrorist groups or assorted loonies. (Not to mention the possibility of one of them being hit on by our great leader, no less.)

Indeed, it takes years, even decades, to build up a country’s image and reputation to the level that foreigners would feel confident about their safety, comfort and enjoyment within its territory. But it only takes a few incidents—and we have more than a thousand killings already—to ruin whatever image-building efforts have been undertaken.

Perhaps if our President were to change tack, cut down on his rhetoric filled with hate and violence, and, most important, order law enforcers to cut back on their rampage and begin investigating the more egregious abuses of human rights, perhaps we can recover our good name before the world community and attract visitors from abroad.

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BUT as it stands, it seems doubtful that we will see a “new” President Duterte anytime soon. Remember, he promised that we would see a “transformation” from the rough-and-tough Rody of old to a more gentle, more refined version once he took his oath of office. How many days did that promise last?

But as it happens, his gruff ways have repercussions way beyond the local audience or his followers. His words have created a negative image not just for himself and his administration but also for the country as a whole. It’s time he gave serious thought to where he wants to bring the Philippines in the six years of his administration.

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TAGS: Asia, Middle East, opinion, Syria, Tourism, tourist, Turkey
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