“It’s the policy, stupid”–or why we’re driving tourists away

In a disconcerting double-whammy, the Philippines’ Ninoy Aquino International Airport was voted the worst airport “for sleeping in” on the same week that Air France-KLM announced a phasing out of its Manila-Amsterdam route.

A report by Philstar.com said, “Last year, NAIA was voted the worst airport in Asia and the fifth worst in the world. It was the seventh worst airport in the world in 2009, according to the website <sleepinginairports.net>.”

Meanwhile, Business World Online reported that the country’s only direct connection to Europe will be discontinued “due to issues with the country’s taxes.”

* * *

This comes at the heels of what has been largely perceived as a positive development in the tourism sector, just shortly after the appointment of advertising “rock star” Ramon Jimenez as tourism secretary. Jimenez’s teams have been credited for some of the Philippines’ best advertising campaigns (he cites “Love yourself” by Selecta as one of his favorites), and he himself had expressed confidence the Philippines can attract up to 10 million tourists annually by 2016.

During the October 8 episode of Boy Abunda’s Bottomline, when I had been fortunate enough to join the discussion as a “Bottomliner”, the panel asked Sec. Jimenez a lot of its burning questions about branding the Philippines, about different aspects of tourism, and about his plans as tourism secretary. (Watch the online version HERE; just make sure to hide the ads to view the video.) His responses showed a clear understanding of the product he was trying to sell, the markets he was trying to tap, the communication vehicles we were going to use, the changing contexts of global tourism, and the demands of heading the tourism bureaucracy.

More than all these, he showed a clear and sincere love for his country that sometimes seems absent from tired and jaded government bureaucrats. His eyes would sparkle whenever he spoke of our gifts as a Filipino people (and you would see this on-screen), and his voice seemed to exude confidence and, as I had relayed to my fellow Bottomliners then, wisdom. I also remarked that Sec. Jimenez’s statements were nakakakilig in that he seemed to know how to woo his market. He was a well-versed, well-armed suitor, and he was ready to take on the job of romancing the market.

Philippine Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez in ABS-CBN's "Bottomline" (October 8, 2011)
Philippine Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez in ABS-CBN's "Bottomline" (October 8, 2011)

However, tourism is not just about romance. It is not just about the allure of a locale (whether based on a glossy brochure or on word-of-mouth), or the hospitality and warmth of its people, its culinary treasures, or its many shopping and dining haunts. It is more than just the sum of its natural wonders and its UNESCO World Heritage Sites. If tourism were just about all the beautiful things that a country had to offer, we would be top on any traveler’s list–because we DO have EVERYTHING that a tourist would want to enjoy on a well-earned vacation.

Unfortunately, we also have MANY of the things that would drive ANYONE away from ANY country: an inefficient bureaucracy, a horrible public transport system, heavily polluted streets, chaotic urban areas, beggars and street urchins loitering on the streets, crime, corruption–name it, we probably have it.

When my turn came to ask a “Bottomline question”, I asked this (and I paraphrase for clarity):

A lot of the challenges to our tourism experience here are peace and order, public transportation, immigration, airports, taxes, pollution, and the destruction of our natural and cultural treasures. These do not fall within the mandate of the Department of Tourism. How does he intend to bring together all of the other stakeholders outside of tourism to address these concerns that affect tourism in the country? 

There wasn’t enough time to delve on this question, but Sec. Jimenez’s short answer to this was that if the tourism department does its job well enough to bring in the demand (of tourists), then the other departments would wake up to the reality that they had to do their jobs well enough to keep the tourists coming back.

I wasn’t too happy about not having time to talk about this issue, but I’ll go back to this point later and first show you a different example.

* * *

At the recently held 1Malaysia Gala Dinner, Malaysian Tourism Minister Dato’ Sri Dr. Ng Yen Yen spoke to a Philippine audience of tour operators, airlines, travel agents, and media about the many things that make Malaysia a great travel destination. She spoke–in a truly engaging and electric manner, I might add–about the cultural diversity that makes “Malaysia, Truly Asia”, about its many world-class destinations and facilities, its colorful and vibrant festivals, its focused and targeted events, among many others.

“We would like to see more Filipino tourists to come to our country to study, to visit, to spend their honeymoon, to hold meetings here, to just simply get away and even to retire. I invite you all to visit Malaysia and witness sights and sounds that make Malaysia truly Asia.”

“The Time is Now, The Place is Malaysia,” she concluded.

On the microphone and all across the room, Dato’ Sri Dr. Ng was like an astute salesman–knowing exactly what to say at the right moment, captivating your attention and holding it at the palm of her hand, then  going for the close. She wanted to get YOU to come to HER country to spend YOUR dollars (or ringgit) there, and she knew EXACTLY what she wanted to say that would make your mouth WATER over Malaysia. From the way she looked to the way she spoke and delivered her message, Dato’ Sri Dr. Ng was clear and focused, her message, compelling.

YB Minister Dato' Sri Dr. Ng Yen Yen during her product presentation at the 1Malaysia Gala Dinner
YB Minister Dato' Sri Dr. Ng Yen Yen during her product presentation at the 1Malaysia Gala Dinner | Photo courtesy of Tourism Malaysia

But there’s more to Malaysia than a great tourism slogan and a great marketing package that has brought in over 24 million tourists to its doorstep in 2010–almost close to the number of its own population of over 28 million people. Its various programs are cohesive and well-packaged–from Education, Sport, and Agro-Tourism, to Malaysia’s “Go2Homestay” program, to its “Malaysia My Second Home” program–over 300 categories of goods are classified as duty-free, and there’s a consistency of policy that makes the business of travel predictable and convenient for any traveler.

Plus, the Minister said, taking a swipe at the Philippines’ peace and order situation, “Prosperity only comes with peace. In any country, conflict brings no prosperity.”

The numbers speak for themselves. In just over a decade, Malaysia has more than tripled its tourist arrivals, starting with 7.9 million tourists in 1999, when the “Malaysia, Truly Asia” campaign was launched, to 24.6 million in 2012. Tourism receipts have grown over seven times in a decade, from MYR8.6 billion (approx. USD2.76 billion) in 1999, to MYR56.5 billion (USD18.1 billion) in 2010. According to the Minister’s presentation, “tourism contributes USD330 million a week to the economy of Malaysia, making tourism the 2nd largest foreign exchange earner in Malaysia. In 2009 and 2010, Malaysia ranked 9th in the Top 10 Most Traveled To Countries, being only one of the two Asian countries included in the list released by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO)”

And all this, Dato’ Sri Dr. Ng says, was achieved with a tourism budget that has remained unchanged since 1999.

* * *

Folks, our problem isn’t just branding; it isn’t just the lack of marketing bucks, either. The problem of the Philippines, as Sec. Jimenez himself had pointed out during the Bottomline interview, is this:  “We haven’t really acted like a tourism country.”

We’ve got an airport that doesn’t look like it wants to welcome visitors and make them stay; we’ve got a terrible public transport system and public infrastructure that discourages people from exploring any town or city in this country; we’ve got a tax regime and a business climate that discourages investments; we tear down historical landmarks instead of preserving them; we’ve got corruption; we’ve got garbage. In short: aside from our innate creativity, our laughter, and the genuine warmth of our people, we’ve given foreigners many reasons to stay away from us, from the level of policy formulation all the way to policy execution. It’s poor governance over the last few decades that has made us a weak tourism brand.

This isn’t to say that we’re doomed to fail. We’re not. With an advertising legend like Sec. Jimenez at the helm of the Department of Tourism and a technocrat like Sec. Mar Roxas on top of the Department of Transportation and Communications, among some other bright spots in the bureaucracy, there IS hope for boosting Philippine tourism and for making it work for all of us. But we’ve got to get our acts together–and we’ve got to move as a “tourism country”, as ONE COUNTRY. Our government bureaucrats have got to let go of their little fiefdoms and start acting for the good of this one brand called “The Philippines.”

We’ve got a mountain of work cut out for us. But, well, I’ve always believed that if you wanted something badly enough, you’d be able to move mountains. We’ve GOT to want THIS one badly enough. I know I do.

Niña Terol-Zialcita

Niña Terol-Zialcita is a “Communicator, Connector, idea Curator, and Changemaker” who uses the power of words and ideas to advocate causes and promote the Philippines at its best. She is ProPinoy.net’s Deputy Editor, as well as Editor-in-Chief of asianTraveler, the longest-running travel magazine in the Philippines. When she is not writing, blogging, or traveling, Niña is conducting writing workshops with Writer’s Block Philippines, hanging out at art galleries and cafés, and performing poetry with her husband, percussionist and performance artist Paul Zialcita. She is also the author of the book "[r]evolutionaries: The new generation of Filipino youth and youth organizations".

  • Anonymous

    Nina; I’ve been living in the Philippines for 4 years and my father is visiting now for the first time so I’m getting to see the Philippines with fresh eyes again with his observations.  
    #1 problem – NOISE
    #2 problem – Pushy, shovy and general rudeness while trying to travel from place to place
    #3 problem – Access.  For me as a resident I’ve gotten used to all the hoops one must go through to get from place to place but for my dad it’s a hassle and so much effort just to move around.  
    #4 problem – lying.  Salespeople blatantly lie to non-Filipinos about the content of foods, materials of products, etc.  (We do not eat Pork and my father was told that a dish whose main component is pork was NOT pork but chicken; he was also told that a pair of rubber slippers were “man-made leather”)

    My father is a world traveler as he served in the US military and worked for long stretches in France, Brazil, Korea and Japan so he has a very global mindset (unlike most Americans who come here arrogantly shoving their way around and barking orders).

    For the #3 problem I noted this rather frankly to my wife when the tourism group of the government announced that they were planning to promote tourism of the Philippines to the disabled communities.  

    Really?  Have any of them tried to just go from place to place as a disabled person?  Try going about with someone in a wheelchair for a day or two doing touristy stuff in Manila as opposed to New York, Singapore, Tokyo or London.  Manila is not disabled friendly.  In fact if you are disabled in Manila it is better that you just stay at home out of sight and out of mind because no business or mode of transportation will really accommodate you to go from place to place.  We went to the Museum of the Philippine People and I tried to imagine a wheelchair-bound person enjoying the displays.  Sadly they would mostly be confined to the single exhibit on the ground floor.

    The problem with so many things in the Philippines is that everything is built to accommodated the average Filipino, meaning 5 foot 4 inches and less than 60 kilos so anything greater than that creates a struggle.  
    I commute to work every day and my neck and upper back are in a constant state of pain because of the amount of hunching and twisting that my 5’11” frame must do in order to fit into the common jeepney to move around.  Oh, and forget even trying to fit into a tricycle or pedicab.

    I’ve lived here for 4 years and due to my size (Large and XL in the States and size 13 shoe) I have to pay exorbitant prices to get the most basic clothing items in spite of the fact that I am living and working in the Philippines and working on the Philippine economy.  Just because I’m American doesn’t mean I get paid like one. 😉

    If the Philippines wishes to invite the world into its borders then it must be ready to accommodate the various people in all shapes, sizes and able-ness that will arrive otherwise it will become a tourism dead zone.

    Thank you so much for this article.

  • GabbyD

    lets decompose how stupid jag’s contribution has been. he leads of with :

    “The author of this post asked an obviously ignorant question.  ”

    NOTE: he never says what “the question” is. NOR does he explain why its “ignorant”.

    then he goes on a tangent, talking about whatever he wants. 

    and we are the idiots? OMG. 🙂 

  • J_ag

    For the clueless ones: 

    For the Clueless:

     

    “I hope no one raises the
    question of affordability. The proposal spearheaded by the NCC will cost a
    billion pesos, well within the affordability level of NAIA. Speaking on ANC’s
    “Headstart,” Robert Lim Joseph, chairman of the Tourism Educators and Movers of
    the Philippines (TEAM Philippines), said the airport collects P750 in terminal
    fees per passenger, or an average yearly total of P8.5 billion in cash from the
    10.5 million passengers that passed through NAIA last year. This does not
    include earnings from the concessionaires, the airlines and even the parking
    lot, which all bring big money to NAIA.” Where do all that money go?”

     

    http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?publicationSubCategoryId=66&articleId=743655

     

    Does anyone know what fiscal and monetary policy means?

     

    I am sure all these funds become part of the General Fund
    directly and/or indirectly and the disbursements for salaries and maintenance
    are controlled by the central government through the DOTC. It is an oversimplification
    to think of the NAIA as a sole standing enterprise which it is not. It is macro
    and not micro. That means that it would have to compete with the other priorities
    of the central government. The LGU’s are completely left out of this equation.

     

    The Central Government also runs with chronic budget deficits
    and the fight for allocations becomes a part of the power relations that rule
    this country. Who gets priority? What happens is you get stasis within the
    Central government.

     

    This is a systemic and structural problem. My macro solution
    to this is liberalize all sectors including real property rights. Decentralize
    power to the LGU’s.  Offer foreign
    companies that invest in tourism facilities a lease of 100 years. The same with
    companies who wish to invest in infrastructure airports roads etc.Capital will take risks only with an assurance that their investments will be protected  and they have clear property rights which in turn is transformed into an asset class for the financial markets. That is what capitalism is all about. If everyone believes that we have a product to sell why be afraid to invite more people to invest to supply the requirements for the unmet demand. The lack of resources once again of the Central Government is not a problem of mis-allocating resources it is a chronic lack of it. Plus on top of that you have the endemic corruption for what little there is. This situation feeds on itself and self perpetuates the system. Now if one does not understand this system one is ignorant and not stupid. For Gabby D though it maybe be an individual  structural problem of understanding.. One cannot spoon feed concepts and reality. 

  • Anonymous

    A mountain of things to do?  Maybe the gov’t should revisit SMART goals.  I am sure that Mr.Jimenez knows that.  Maybe they just need to speak up on what they have in store.

  • paul

    How the native lives is the fundamental attraction for the thoughtful tourist. Unless the ordinary living condition gets to dignified status, tourists will continue to be hied off directly to the “brochure spot” in a frantic attempt to skirt the sight and smell of the typical.

  • J_ag

    “Unfortunately, we also have MANY of the things that would drive ANYONE away from ANY country: an inefficient bureaucracy, a horrible public transport system, heavily polluted streets, chaotic urban areas, beggars and street urchins loitering on the streets, crime, corruption–name it, we probably have it.”
    MM is not the Philippines sweetheart…Plus for Gabby D this are symptoms of a third world country… Economic development is the solution but that is a generational thing… Could someone kindly translate this to whatever language or dialect Gabby D thinks in. Ms. Terol -Z are you still in grade school? 

    • Nina Terol Zialcita

      J_ag:
      1. DO NOT call me sweetheart.
      2. I am not stupid into thinking that the problems of Metro Manila are the problems of the entire Philippines, but as a point of entry and the country’s main hub, these issues NEED to be addressed if we are to encourage more people to step into our doorstep.
      3. Your last question makes me want to ask, Can I look at YOUR writing please? The way you phrase your questions and statements makes me think that the question should be directed at you.
      You have no respect for people, and you have no place in this blog, seriously.

      • J_ag

        Ms. Terol ignorance about what constitutes systemic and structural problems as opposed to simple solutions to increasing the flow of visitors to take advantage of the natural beauty of this country does not make one stupid. You obviously do not know the difference. That is not your fault.  Your schooling and training did not give you this tools. Your title clearly spells it out. You want a macro policy solution when the problem calls for a micro solution. Both you and Gabby D do not know the difference. 

        Consult your dictionary on the meaning of ignorance and stupidity. There are numerous foreigners I personally know who live on the outskirts of Manila who love it. The beaches, the food and off course the people. 

        All over the Caribbean even in Jamaica there are numerous resorts where foreign tourists fly direct to. Cabo San Lucas, Cancun in Mexico are other examples. Very few people actually go to the capital. 

        Santo Domingo which has still standing the home of Cristopher Columbus is another example. I used to visit there a lot and did not stay in the capital. There are resorts all over the Caribbean that caters to all classes of the markets. Mass markets and the luxury markets.  At the most it is about a whole days flight from Europe. 

        I have had meetings with Korean companies who would love to develop these far flung places and are stunned by the availability of the freshness of the food that they pay a bundle for in their own country. The seafood blows their mind. We have a longer coastline than the U.S. 

        • GabbyD

          “You want a macro policy solution when the problem calls for a micro solution. Both you and Gabby D do not know the difference. ”

          OMG. what the HECK are you talking about? this has nothing to do with what she wrote. 

          do you have a mental disorder? whats wrong with you?

    • GabbyD

      “Plus for Gabby D this are symptoms of a third world country… Economic development is the solution but that is a generational thing… ”

      huh? when did i talk about the symptoms of a third world country? do u have a cognitive disorder?

      are you imagining conversations that dont exist? yikes!

      • Anonymous

        I hate when people refer to the Philippines as 3rd world.  I’ve been to African nations that truly are 3rd world.  Philippines is a developing and industrialized nation and it’s problems are not comparable to that of a third world nation.

    • Anonymous

      Metro Manila is not the whole of the Philippines but it is the central point for which most tourists arrive, visit and leave from regardless of where else they will travel. Human thought patterns mean that we will remember most vividly that which happens in the beginning and end of an event.  If the problems are central in MM that means the beginning and ending of every tourist’s travels will be tainted with the disgusting conditions that the local governments refuse to address.

  • J_ag

    “A lot of the challenges to our tourism experience here are peace and order, public transportation, immigration, airports, taxes, pollution, and the destruction of our natural and cultural treasures. These do not fall within the mandate of the Department of Tourism. How does he intend to bring together all of the other stakeholders outside of tourism to address these concerns that affect tourism in the country?” 
    Now if anyone who has a simple cognitive process of cause and effect would tell me if the problems mentioned above are the effects of serious systemic and structural flaws in the state of the country’s economic and political management of affairs or simple problems that can solved by third world economy pretending to be first world.

    In short , how can a backward country that seems to be going back wards be saved by the Department of Tourism? 

    The answer more slogans and wish lists. His answer is off course and play to the old standard, Hoy, Gising!!!!

    Any child can point out that that is a slogan and not a program from a well thought out policy.  Enough of slogans and talk… Accept what we can do and what we cannot do in view of our strategic problems. To solve the big problems you start with the small ones and they will eventually lead to solving the big ones. Ms Terol-Zialcita has good intentions but is definitely clueless about how to recognize problems and how to solve problems. There is no magic pill nor silver bullet but a government that knows how to use their brains and not their pockets. 

    http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/insideOpinion.htm?f=2011/october/21/peterwallace.isx&d=2011/october/21

    • Nina Terol Zialcita

      “Ms Terol-Zialcita has good intentions but is definitely clueless about how to recognize problems and how to solve problems.”

      I suppose YOU can show us the way? I posed that question IN RECOGNITION of the fact that no single department, no single bureaucracy will be able to solve anything on its own. Our problems are systemic, deeply rooted, and have been there for generations. It will take more than a single person, department, administration, or generation to solve our problems, but we ARE interested in concrete first steps that can work.

      I wonder how people with YOUR kind of thinking can get ANYTHING done.

      • Anonymous

        Actually,  Ja_G’s posts have a number of concrete steps.

        Just his allusion to Kingston, Jamaica is replete with solutions.  Very simply, the “Kingston-Jamaica”-model is this.  Disneyland with a bit of steroids!!!  Invite a Malaysian- or Chinese-firm to  put up a 1,000-acre or 1,500 acre resort, and wall the resort  ( so the guests can enjoy the privacy of Pilipinas beaches, $500-and-higher per night rooms (with free bottles of filtered water — imported — and made-in-Thailand coco juice),  gambling tables with Atlantic-City or better odds  without beggars and foot traffic from poorly-shod locals)  and instead of depending on the city- or province police, the enterprise should seek approval to put up its own self-defense force —  well-armed patrols against Abu- or other kidnapping enterprises.

        Pilipinas most likely will not approve a “pocket-nuclear-reactor” to power the place,   but this “Kingston-in-the-Philippines”-enterprise will need a steady source of power.   And then, of course,  a reasonable decent airport and safe transport from airport to the resort.

        Get another enterprise to put up a similar walled-but-on-a-smaller-scale resort in the Cordilleras (within 1-hour of rice terraces). JoeAmerica tongue-in-cheek said “Sell the Adventure!” but hey, there should be jungle- or cave-tours ( escorted, natz! ), the two resorts can cross-fertilize (and physically connect via helicopter). Get a third walled-resort — tourist-attraction of Vigan churches plus beaches.

        • Anonymous

          Your solution for the Philippines to grow is to invite a foreign development company to build a large resort?

          Think about that for a minute and realize the contradiction that you are creating.

          Set aside how difficult it is for a foreign business to set up shop here and realize that you are creating a scenario by which funds will come into the Philippines and be funneled out.

          No
          Sipag Pinoy!  Be industrious and build up from the Philippines FOR the Philippines!

    • cocoy

      @J_ag let’s keep things civil and sane.  Thanks.

      • J_ag

        Apologies to anyone who has felt that my words were directed at them… Words have consequences if you get past the superficial. 

  • J_ag

    The typical ignorant question … 

    I feel for this man Jimenez.. Man he is good at what he does… However one must distinguish what is a problem of systems and structures and the problematic long term solutions to the reality of a third world country to what readily doable solutions there are to accomplish in the short to medium term… 

    Firstly I would allow foreign investments in tourist enterprises. Allow them to build airports and the infrastructure in those areas that have the potential.. Government can and should provide subsidies to bring their costs down provided there is an upside for employment potential. Jobs Jobs Jobs.  If Castro’s Cuba could do it why not us. 

    Allow pocket open skies in this areas. We have so many areas that can be developed that we are like a Caribbean in one country.  I have been to the Caribbean and to Bali.

    Almost nobody goes to Kingston, Jamaica but fly directly to the many beach resorts. The same goes for the Dominican Republic. Pina Coladas with fresh pineapples and Cuba Libre with breakfast and lunch… We have all the seafood available too. 

    The author of this post asked an obviously ignorant question.    How can the poor guy Jimenez solve developmental problems? Small steps headed in the right direction.. The guy is a good ad man but get him some help and open up the sector.. 

    If we have only a small number of oligarchs open up so there will be more of the them to compete. 

    Build it and they will come… 

    • GabbyD

      “The author of this post asked an obviously ignorant question.    How can the poor guy Jimenez solve developmental problems? ”

      the author didnt ask that. sigh…

      • J_ag

        Gabby D you most possible have cognitive disabilities… 

        • GabbyD

          really? because the author didnt ask what you were alleging? great… sigh…

          • Nina Terol Zialcita

            I seriously think J_ag has nothing better to do.

    • “How does he intend to bring together all of the other stakeholders outside of tourism to address these concerns that affect tourism in the country? “–Nina

      That, Daddy, is the question asked by the author. If you’re looking for ignorance, look somewhere else, for example read Jimenez’s answer to the said question. 

      His answer was very clear, that he will just wait for the other stakeholders to “wake up”. Clearly your man Jimenez is just a good ad man as you said; not a man of action.

      With an attitude like that for a tourism boss, can you expect much from him to increase tourists arrivals? Come on, Daddy.

      • Anonymous

        Wouldn’t it have been an eye-opener had Jimenez said :

        Good point, that there are other stakeholders outside of tourism that are needed.  I want to assure you that my boss President Noynoy is aware of what you mention.

        • You’re very correct, UP n. 

          Unfortunately, Mr. Jimenez was clueless and would  rather just wait for manna to fall from heaven instead of attempting to inform his president that there are stakeholders outside of tourism that needed to “wake up” and do their share in order that foreign tourists can be lured to come to the Philippines.

    • Joe America

      J_ag, Superb thinking in my opinion. Rarely around here do I see people coming up with specific solutions. The “pocket” strategy is excellent. Some of the “pockets” today are potentially world class, but unknown globally. Pinatubo crater for example. Facilities and access need to be upgraded. And the natural setting preserved.

      Another approach is to “sell the adventure” that is here now. Jeepneys are unique in the world, they are an adventure. They just aren’t sweet and modern. Or print a guide “hunting for jewels” that identify the “pockets” that are world class now.

      • Anonymous

        Oh, jeepneys are an adventure!  If you happen to end up in Metro Manila, take the jeepney ride from Cubao, QC to Montalban, Rizal.  These jeeps are sort of ground-level roller coasters.  

    • Nina Terol Zialcita

      “The author of this post asked an obviously ignorant question.”

      Insult after insult after insult. I really would like to see something SMART and RESPECTFUL come out of your mouth, fingers, whatever.

  • “…but Sec. Jimenez’s short answer to this was that if the tourism department does its job well enough to bring in the demand (of tourists), then the other departments would wake up to the reality that they had to do their jobs well enough to keep the tourists coming back.”

    Baligtad. Unless the the ‘sleeping’ “other departments” wake up to the realities that peace and order and the chaotic environment are the main deterrent to attract foreign tourists, the tourism department of Mr. Jimenez can’t expect to accomplish much in term of tourists arrivals.

    The horse should be pulling the cart, not the reverse.

    • Manuelbuencamino

      correct. nothing falls into place automatically contrary to what  jimenez believes. he has to make the pieces fit himself

      • You’re both right. I was sorely disappointed with the fact that we didn’t have enough time to discuss that point, as well as with whatever answer could be mustered with whatever time we had. I saw a lot that I liked in the Secretary’s answers, but I really, really wanted a stronger answer to that question. Roberto’s right; the horse should be pulling the cart.

        • Anonymous

          A minor perspective is this.  YES —  Those Australia or Japan advisories warning their nationals about the high risks of riding Pilipinas inter-island ferries or even inter-city buses and other public transportation — not good.  But the failure of the GMA administration was much less about providing better service to Egyptian or Norwegian tourists, it was about failure to provide basic services to Pinoys-in-Pinas.

  • Anonymous

    So true, Nina and so sad.

    We’ve traveled to and from (and within) this great country for 30 years, and I have to admit, the times spent in airports have not been the high points for us. And it’s not just that they are bad for “sleeping.”

    I have often felt bad as I think about the airports, even the international terminals in Manila, seeing them through the eyes of foreign tourists. Insufficient (or uncomfortable) seating by the gates, limited food choices (sometimes next to nothing!), filthy restrooms where one hardly knows where to step, lacking even the most basic amenities. Even restroom design is not done with other cultures in mind, where there is no barrier to keep private activites from the eyes of everyone who passes by the open door of the CR. All of these are totally unacceptable to most tourists and are extremely off-putting. Many tourists who experience all of this will never return. And they will discourage others in their homelands from coming here. The same would apply to business travelers and potential investors.

    What a small investment some comfy seats, toilet seats, paper towels, functioning plumbing, running water, etc., would be in light of the potentially huge return (literally… returning visitors)! As for food, multiple vendors would gladly set up service in our airports. I don’t know what the problem there is; perhaps it’s also an overly ambitious tax scheme.

    • “As for food, multiple vendors would gladly set up service in our airports. I don’t know what the problem there is; perhaps it’s also an overly ambitious tax scheme.”
      — I honestly don’t know why their MIAA could not invite more concessionaires, or more “matino” concessionaires, into the airport! Imagine, the smallest airports in Malaysia have Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf! We don’t even have McDonald’s or Jollibee near the check-in area! Pathetic talaga… =/

      • Anonymous

        The answer to that is probably “fear of competition”, and “locked-in”.

        What I’m saying is that the current owners of the concession are “locked-in”, and they are quite content with the set-up (their margins are high (I’m guessing)) and they are BFF’s with the correct people so —- why allow competition in?   Crony-capitalism ala Marcos  or  oligarchy-type or whatever term you want to apply.

        A way to break this arrangement is either thru Lacierda whispering into Presidente’s ears  or getting Walden Bello to initiate Congress hearings.

  • GabbyD

    I like this!

  • Manuelbuencamino

    nines,

    video not found. But your idea comes in loud and clear: we have to bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality if we want tourists to visit. 

    Also a note of caution on the incredibly high numbers of tourists:  Malaysia could be counting the regular traffic crossing the two bridges between Johor and Singapore as tourist arrivals. 

    • Ah, that’s true, too. Sec. Jimenez himself said that we shouldn’t look at just tourism arrivals, but also tourism revenues. But the Malaysian Tourism Minister herself said that they earned US$18.1 BILLION last year alone. Tourism accounts for their second-largest foreign-exchange earner. We need to look at it from the point of view of revenue, jobs, long-term growth. 

      • Manuelbuencamino

        True we have to look at it in terms of revenue etc. 

        One thing worth noting about that $18.1B. That means Malaysia is not catering to backpackers.

        Another point, since I lived in KL for a number of years…Malaysia attracts a lot of Arab tourists during the summer months. And the Arabs they get are the ninja arabs…from saudi i guess…that’s big bucks from shopping, booze, and discos…there was an arab who used to come every year and stayed at one of the hotels in bukit bintang…super loaded…came with his entire family including grandchildren…his boeing was parked in klia and every day he would have two or three vans shopping at funny places like IKEA…when his jet was full it would fly back to saudi then come back to be filled with stuff again…he would stay anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month…ano kaya ang ginagastos niya sa shopping?

        • “That means Malaysia is not catering to backpackers.”
          — But they ARE promoting a “Go2Homestay” program. We don’t even have a coordinated effort for homestaying. I guess couch-surfing would be the next best thing, but we still need to get our act together and promote all of these efforts more strategically.

          • Manuelbuencamino

            The Homestay program could mean they lack of hotel rooms at the moment. I haven’t been to Malaysia in five years are they building hotels?

    • Anonymous

       Pilipinas has another problem with some folks blithely  blog-posting that Pilipinas has nothing to offer tourists other than sex tourism.   That’s what I thought I saw posted by this dude Manny Belly and  Australian blogposter SydAm or some name like that.    Oh, wait, I found the blogcomment and this is a cut-and-paste:

      Seriously I wouldn’t go to the Philippines as a tourist if I was not looking to get laid, just like in Bangkok in the good old days. If I were a foreigner I would go to the Philippines to retire, just like many Americans do Mexico.

  • [But we’ve got to get our acts together–and we’ve got to move as a “tourism country”, as ONE COUNTRY.] So true. So many OLD habits of resting on our laurels, just waiting for things to improve. Time to wake up and act!

    • Agree! And it’s not just the job of the tourism dept; it’s the job of EVERY SINGLE EFFIN’ FILIPINO ON THE PLANET. That’s 100 million people; we’ve got 100 million ambassadors. That’s FIVE TIMES the number of Malaysians. If Malaysia can do it, why not the Philippines?

      • Manuelbuencamino

        frankly i don’t know if an ad man is what we need. i think someone in the hotel or resort business would have a better grasp of what tourists are looking for and the infrastructure needed to deliver the goods

  • Nik

    As well, we have very little understanding of what our brand, what the selling points of the country, actually are.

    • Ayyy. So true, too. When Boy Abunda asked Sec. Jimenez why he thought we couldn’t brand ourselves properly, Jimenez answered that it was because Filipinos themselves didn’t believe in their product. We act as if we don’t care about our country; we treat our country like one big garbage dump. No multi-million branding campaign can solve that. We’ve really got to clean house first, and Sec. Jimenez pointed that out, too.

      • Nik

        Exactly. A country becomes interesting when the people themselves are interested in it. That passion comes through.

        I really think it begins in reconnecting Filipinos to their localities. Developing pride and a deeper understanding in those areas is key to creating local tourism products.

        • SUPER SUPER AGREE, Nik! Pride of people, pride of place. Everything else will follow, including caring for the environment, keeping litter off the surroundings, preserving heritage structures, etc. Haaaay. So much work to be done!

          • Anonymous

            You are pushing the right agenda so I hope you don’t get tired that fast. 

            Nik’s point — A country becomes interesting when the people themselves are interested in it. That passion comes through.    is worth repeating.

          • Nik

            Absolutely agree with your last point. Reorienting attitudes through ‘proper’ and ‘inclusive’ education is key. The connection between education and respect for heritage sites is little understood here.

          • Nik

            I know. Fun isn’t it? 

            Timely article by the way. Enjoyed it!