A New Thrust for Philippine Tourism


Community, Culture and History: A New Thrust for Philippine Tourism
Gemma Cruz Araneta
Secretary of Tourism
24th Philippine Business Conference
West in Philippine Plaza
28 October 1998


It is a privilege to be invited to speak at your 24thannual conference and I truly appreciate your confidence because, as you know, my appointment as Secretary of Tourism has not yet been confirmed by the Commission on Appointments of the Senate.  However, since day one I have begun working with the Department of Tourism staff and with private sector representatives of the travel and tourism sector, reviewing and assessing existing programs of the Department. We will continue what is good and sustainable and discontinue those programs that have wasted the money of tax-payers.  I welcome this opportunity to tell you about what we have been doing, so far.

The prestigious “Economist” magazine ranks travel and tourism as “the largest industry in the world today.”  In 1996, the World Travel and Tourism Council has calculated the economic value of goods and services attributed to tourism at US$3.6 trillion, or 10.6 per cent of gross global product. It estimates that tourism sustains more than one in ten jobs around the world, providing work for 255 million people . Tourism could very well create another 130 million jobs by 2006.

To some extent, the Philippines has shared in that bounty. Last year, about  2 million foreign visitors came. Although a significant percentage of those arrivals were Fil-American balikbayans and returning OFWs, tourism contributed a mean US$2.83  billion in receipts to the national coffers. Yet, no matter how significant the  impact of tourism is  on our national economy, there is always a troubling downside. More than any other industry, tourism is the most vulnerable to external shocks, it suffers when times are hard, it is susceptible to image problems.  For example, the current economic crisis in Asia—and now  in the rest of the world– is taking its toll.Tourist traffic has slowed down and so have revenues; airline companies are ailing; as a consequence, spending on tourism development and promotions  has ebbed.

At the DOT, we have decided not to wait until the crisis blows over.  During this lull, we are making  a thorough  assessment of where we stand in  the intense competition for tourist dollars. The program we will submit to President Joseph Estrada is founded on the Tourism Master Plan that the DOT drafted with the assistance of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) during the time of Secretary Narzalina Lim. It is, by far, the best master plan but , unfortunately, it was cast aside and has  remained unfinished. But, I believe in continuity.

In a recent interview In “Business World”, the erstwhile secretary said that tourism is about providing the basics, that is, excellent infrastructure, expanded air seat capacity, an unlimited supply of attractive brochures, maps and other information about the Philippines, a consistent image of a politically stable country with a low crime rate, well-trained tourism personnel and a natural environment which does not compromise the health and safety of domestic and foreign visitors.

I totally agree with Narzalina. I am certain millions of visitors will come if we concentrate on getting our basics in place. “Back to basics” – in fact, the DOT is conducting a survey about what tourists hate most and what they like  best.  Very basic to tourism is the matter of airline seats. Unless we have enough  to support our tourism programs, the industry will wither. That is why the settlement of the Philippine Airlines controversy and the gradual liberalization of air policies are of such far-reaching importance to the health of the tourism industry.

The peace and order situation are also vital, so is basic cleanliness and care for the environment. Another immutable “basic”  is community-based tourism which means that our towns, cities and provinces should be the building blocks of tourism development. In the past decades, the industry has focused on developing destinations with very minimal participation of the locals, of the people who live in the area. One of our biggest selling points is the variety of local cultures with their traditional crafts and cuisine, but usually the locals, specially if they are indigenous,  are not integrated in the development of destinations.

A community-based tourism program will bring out what is vital and attractive in the Philippine countryside; agri-tourism is an aspect we have neglected. The DOT can be the  effective channel through which the national and local governments can work closely in the development and promotion of tourist destinations. Community-based tourism is the core of domestic tourism which we aim to promote aggressively during the Estrada administration.

Since I was appointed Secretary of Tourism, I have made a few trips around the country, even if I have not yet been confirmed, to see for myself what is missing or what is inadequate about tourism development in our provinces and regions. I have come to realize that there is a very weak sense of history and culture, we lack  a certain “pride of place”. I hate to say this, but we Filipinos are not proud of what we have. We feel that  our native cultures and traditions are not good enough so we imitate other people.We do not respect the places where significant  historical events took place;  we keep changing the names of our streets, towns and cities; we give foreign names to our hotels and resorts.

You have all traveled around the world. I am sure you have noticed that most of the great  destinations are memorable  because of the powerful pull of history and culture. Virtually every place one visits in France, Italy,  Spain in Latin America and Asia  speaks to us of something very old and enduring; the same is true of the attractive tourist sites in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. They have preserved their culture;they know their history and are proud of the vestiges of their past.

To say that the Philippines is not as old as those countries is to beg the question. I believe we have our own uniqueness because we are a happy blend of East and West with a great variety of local cultures and traditions. We have Christian temples and Muslim mosques; colonial structures in Manila, Vigan, Cebu, Bohol  and other places testify to a rich and creative past. That is the kind of experience tourists, domestic or international, look for. We fully appreciate Duty Free shops, commercial  centers and malls, theme parks, modern hotels and resorts, but in the final analysis, these will be of lasting value only if they exist side-by-side with living communities,  fully integrated to the economic mainstream of correct tourism development.

So far, under the Estrada administration, the thrust will be community-based tourism which highlights our history and culture and which will develop a “ pride of place” in every Filipino; “ back to basics”  which implies cleanliness,  tourist- friendly infrastructure and a liberalized  air policy. Domestic tourism  will be promoted aggressively as our bread-and-butter because   international visitors tend to shy away when there are external shocks. I humbly ask for the support of the Philippine business community. I ask you to believe that when you invest in tourism projects consonant to this thrust, you will not only be nurturing your investments, you will also be helping a vital industry that makes significant contributions to the Philippines as a whole.

Thank you once again for this opportunity and  for your confidence. I bid you all a pleasant evening.