Thursday, October 25, 2007

Good news from Philippine tourism sector

The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own.—Susan Sontag (1933-2004), New York Review of Books, April, 18, 1974

We support the call of the joint chambers of commerce in the country for the upgrading of the country’s international and domestic airports, especially the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) that straddles two Metro Manila cities and the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) in Clark, Pampanga.

If there’s one strategic investment that we should undertake to immediately kick-start the economy, this is it. And we should do it soon.

For all our rambunctious politics, the tales about corruption in high places, bombings, and skirmishes between rebels and government troops, the country’s tourism industry has actually been growing quite decently in the last several years. By the looks of it, it seems to be an emerging industry that only needs a little tweaking from the government for it to become a really huge growth driver like outsourcing.

It used to be that we hardly attracted a million visitors each year despite all the good beaches, the huge shopping malls and the historic places we got all over. In the last few years, we have proven we can actually attract more than two million a year. This year, both the private and the public sectors expect visitor arrivals to reach three million. By 2010 we are supposed to get more than five million visitors.

These figures are probably achievable given the fact that from January to August alone, we already got more than two million. With the influx of more tourists and balikbayan in November and December, we could probably achieve the target this year. Given the rising trend in tourism arrivals in the last three years, the five-million target by 2010 is probably a conservative estimate.

Today, we can already feel the positive effects of this encouraging trend. Major hotels are now getting crowded, indicating that soon we are going to see increased investments in additional capacities. This year alone, the Tourism department said the country needs an additional 3,000 rooms. Meeting these requirements alone would mean that the Philippine economy is going to get at least $3 billion in fresh investments. This would certainly mean more jobs being created, not only in hotels but also in restaurants and the food industry.

And certainly, the money that the tourists are going to spend in the shopping malls, bars, restaurants, resorts and spas not only in Metro Manila but also in Tagaytay, Cebu, Bohol and Boracay would generate a lot of economic activities in these areas.

Right now, industry estimates indicate that the tourism industry probably employs more than three million workers, with about a million directly hired by hotels and restaurants. A five-million tourism-arrival figure therefore could easily translate to a total job creation of more than seven million by 2010.

What we are stressing here is that tourism is the best and the fastest way to address joblessness in the cities and the countryside. And it’s a kind of industry that really doesn’t require highly skilled labor.

But to achieve these targets, the government would need to make a major or strategic decision of giving time and resources to upgrading the country’s airports, particularly the Naia and, if possible, the DMIA. As stressed by the foreign chambers, the first and the last impression of the Philippines are created by the tourists’ experiences when they land and leave the country.

Today, most visitors enter the country through the Naia, and they are probably not pleased getting through the congested airport. The Naia Terminal 3 should have addressed that issue, but until now that terminal is still closed to traffic.

Right now, it would probably make sense if the government, in tandem with the private sector, could develop the DMIA as an alternative international gateway. But that would also mean investing in supporting infrastructure like ground-transportation links to Metro Manila.

Certainly, there’s an opportunity for the private sector to help the government in this effort, provided the public sector could ensure transparent bidding rules and procedures. It’s a sure bet that we need to make right away to propel the economy on a higher growth path. (Drafted as editorial for BusinessMirror October 23 2007)

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