Saw an article the other day from a Filipino politician, Manila Rep. Amado S. Bagatsing, that really impressed me. The Manila Representative was wondering why the Philippines lags so far behind its other Southeast Asian neighbors in annual tourist arrivals. Mr. Bagatsing's speech before Congress which I read in the Manila Bulletin November 29, online edition, questioned why Singapore (11.6 million visitors in 2010), Indonesia (7 million), Thailand 15.8 million), Malaysia (24.5 million) and Vietnam (5 million) had more people visiting those neighboring countries than the Philippines. 2010 tourist arrivals for the Philippines: 3.5 million.
The article stated that Representative Bagatsing, chairman of the House Committee on Games and Amusement, cited four of the largely unexploited competitive advantages of the country as follows: 1) The Philippines has a warm, friendly and English-speaking population which allows foreign tourists to communicate easily and find their way around; 2) interesting cultural resources; 3) rich natural resources; 4) and a low cost of living in the country.
The representative went on to make the following remarks in his speech: “Getting the worst airport standing in 2011 is a nightmare. Descriptions pertaining to Terminal 1 sound like – ‘bombed-out ruin,’ ‘bribery and corruption is rife and the scams start the minute you walk off the plane,’ ‘lines insanely long’ and ‘four attendants hassled me for a tip.’”
“On the recently-declared a pocket open skies policy – are we really dead-serious to make this work or will this be another lip service policy? Where are the actual applications for more flights and seats from foreign airlines? Foreign airlines are actually pulling out due to exorbitant taxes and airport fees.”
He also noted the various successful ad campaigns of the other countries, such as "Malaysia, truly Asia, "Amazing Thailand," and "Incredible India."
The representative also called on the Aquino administration to swiftly take definite steps to protect tourists from harassment and criminal elements in order to realize the country’s target of six million tourist arrivals by 2016.
Mr. Bagatsing makes a lot of sense and brings up some excellent points, and I hope someone in the Tourism Department listens to him. With all the friendly and warm English-speaking Filipinos, beautiful natural resources, and cheaper cost of living, there's no reason the Philippines shouldn't be able to reach that six million goal by 2016.
I wonder if the perception that it isn't safe to travel in the Philippines, that our State Department helps foster with their travel warnings, doesn't hurt Philippines tourism? It's really unwarranted in my opinion. Never have had any personal safety issues in over two years of living here, and I've traveled in Manila, Cebu, and ride the jeepney extensively in the Iloilo City area where we reside. Our subdivision streets are just as safe, if not safer, than any streets I've traveled in the States. Well, Representative, my hat's off to you. Hopefully, the powers to be take your advice to heart.