“Rediscovery”, Our Tourism Program


“Rediscovery” , Our Tourism Program
Secretary Gemma Cruz Araneta
Department of Tourism
National Assembly of the League of Vice-Governors
Rembrandt Hotel, 29 July 1999


I want to thank the League of Vice-Governors for inviting me to address this annual national assembly. I appreciate your interest in the tourism program of the Estrada Administration which is called “Rediscovery”. A year has gone by  for all of us; the Estrada administration is a year old , and so it is for me as Secretary of Tourism.

The year that passed provides us with a basis for reviewing the progress of our efforts in promoting tourism. In his State of the Nation address last Monday, President Estrada presented a comprehensive review of the initiatives and accomplishments of his administration and the challenges that we all face.

There were birth pains: At the outset, President Estrada cancelled the World Expo 2002 ( it wasn’t really World, it was a smaller expo classified as “Recognized”) because it would have cost the government billions just to host as 90-day event. Besides, it would have desecrated the Quezon Memorial Circle, so the Quezon family expressed their deep  concern. Well, I was blamed for the cancellation of that extravaganza  and almost did not get confirmed by the Commission on Appointments of the Senate. But as they say, cooler heads prevailed.

At the end of 1998, tourist arrivals decreased by 2 per cent due to the effect of the Asian ( and world) economic crisis . Moreover, Philippine Airlines  was in trouble,  it reduced its fleet considerably; how terrible for us because 98 per cent of visitors come by air. That was a wake up call: There is a glaring need to liberalize the civil aviation policy of the government.

However, in the first semester of 1999, things looked brighter. Tourist arrivals began to pick up, even if there was so little left for us to spend on tourism promotions.  From January to April of this year, visitor arrivals posted  a modest increase of 2.3 per cent, but it was still higher  compared to the same period of last year. In the month of May alone, tourist arrivals reached 169,229 which means a 5.32 per cent increase over the same period of last year. Please bear in mind that last year was our Centennial andthe previous administrated sponsored a lot of events. That is probably why there was so little left for us to spend for tourism promotion.  Frankly,  I was pleasantly surprised at the increase of arrivals, no matter how modest, that can only  mean that the few sales missions we had paid off, and so did the  free publicity we managed to get, like the Elf Authentic Adventure held in Northern and Eastern Samar last April and the STRIX “Expedition Robinson”  in Palawan early this month. The latter had 2.3 million viewers. That was free publicity in our main Europea markets.

As I said, there were birth pains: As soon as I was appointed Secretary, there was a lot of criticism  of the tourism program because I decided to continue a master plan that was crafted by the Department of Tourism and the United Nations Development Program in 1991.  As you know, continuity is a bad word around here.   That is why  I am happy to report that in the latest SWS survey conducted nationally from June 2 to 16 of this year, the DOT  received a 61 per cent satisfaction rating .The SWS also compared the ratings of the last four tourism secretaries  and I had a  49 per cent satisfaction rating compared to 39 per cent of Mrs. Mina Gabor, 25 per cent of Mr. Sixto Carlos and 19 per cent of Mr. Eduardo Pilapil. I am mentioning this not to blow my own horn,  but to assure you that we are on the right track.The DOT  will continue implementing the “Rediscovery” Tourism Program of the Estrada administration and I would like to  invite your league to  work closely with us  so we can   achieve common goals.

One of the elements of the “Rediscovery” Tourism Program is called “Back to Basics.” Last year, the DOT conducted its own survey about the likes and dislikes of tourists and we found out that the greatest turnoffs of visitors are dirty restrooms and traffic congestion, in that order. What they like the most is the hospitality of Filipinos,  the beautiful destinations and ease of communication.

At the start, no one in the DOT wanted to talk about dirty restrooms, but the day after I announced our “Clean Rest Rooms” program, no less than the president of Shell Philippines came to my office with a presentation of how Shell Company would upgrade the restrooms in all the gasoline stations they own along the “Tourism Highway”. The only thing they asked in return is for me  to allow them to place the DOT logo in front of the gasoline stations. I am happy to report that Petron and Philtranco followed suit. I enjoin the vice-governors to assist the DOT in the “Clean Rest Rooms” program, in your areas of responsibility. .

During  cabinet meetings, I bring up the traffic congestion problem and how this is detrimental to tourism.  You might be pleased to know that there are already plans for a new international airport large enough to accommodate 10 million travelers. . This will decongest the NAIA terminal and make our airport services more competitive.

By the end of the year, the mass rail transit system along EDSA will be opened. That  will ease traffic congestion and shorten land travel because , ideally, tourists who have only a few days to spend here should reach their final destination within an hour from the airport.

In the framework of “Rediscovery”, the DOT is strongly advocating domestic tourism. Did you know that domestic tourism counts for more than half of travel and tourism? The DOT is most certainly promoting international tourism, but this sector is a vulnerable one. Stories about terrorist attacks, kidnapping of foreigners, peace and order issues , usually exaggerated, always affect our main foreign markets. Travel advisories are much too quickly issued by foreign governments warning their citizens about coming to the Philippines. That is why I believe the DOT should aggressively promote domestic tourism; it  is our bread-and-butter.

By engaging in  domestic tourism, Filipinos will learn more about their country and hopefully feel a “ pride of place.” When we become domestic tourists, we become aware of the different cultures that exist in these islands, we learn about the history of the places we visit, we start appreciating the heritage structures, the cuisine, art and music of our different provinces. We meet members of indigenous communities and realize that in diversity there is unity.  A Filipino who is proud of the country is the best tourism front liner.

To promote domestic tourism, the DOT has chosen 8 Anchor Destinations:

  • Baguio/Banaue
  • Laoag/Vigan
  • Manila and environs
  • Boracay
  • North Palawan
  • Cebu
  • Bohol
  • Davao

Please do not get upset if your province is not yet found in this list. Consider these 8 as gateways to the existing ( and future) destinations around them. As you know, the DOT cannot promote all our destinations at the same time, but rest assured that this list will get longer. Let me know what destinations you want to promote in your provinces.

The “Rediscovery” Tourism Program  also aims to foment international tourism. ln August, we will be launching two projects  designed for international tourism, especially for Filipinos living abroad, the new generations of Fil-Ams,  and for Overseas Filipino Workers.  Early on, I received reports from some of the tourism attaches in our main markets that many Filipinos abroad say  things about the country that discourage visitors from  coming  here. I felt sad when I heard that because Filipinos living abroad are     potential front liners of the tourism industry. With that in mind,   we designed these 2 programs to invite  them to  “Rediscover” their country of origin.

  • Balikbayani Program
    This  will be unveiled in the USA next month. Eventually, it will encompass all the continents where there are Filipinos.  At the latest count, there are about 5 million living overseas. The potential of this program is enormous and all the provinces and regions of the country will benefit from it.
  • “Discover Your Roots” Program
    The DOT aims to induce 3rd and 4th generation Filipinos to visit their ancestral homeland, the country of their parents and grandparents.

The League of Vice-Governors should take the lead in promoting these 2  projects.

Through the “Rediscovery” Tourism Program, the DOT intends to assist the provinces and regions realize their tourism potentials. Tourism could be the fastest way to economic recovery, especially  if it community-based and sustainable. As one of the most labor-intensive industries, it employs a lot of people. Tourism activities can generate a number of business enterprises from hotels to restaurants, schools, commercial centers, transport systems, construction,  destination merchandise, tours, handicrafts, etc. Tourism is the largest industry in the world and there will be a boom in the 21st century. We must start now, so we will not fall behind again.

If you have any questions, I will gladly answer them.