Tourism in the National Capital Region


Tourism in the  National Capital Region
Secretary Gemma Cruz Araneta
Department of Tourism
5th Assembly of the National Capital Region Tourism Councils
Mandaluyong city, 8 July 1999


Thank you for that very kind and flattering introduction.  Mayor Benjamin Abalos, Jr,  Ben-Hur, thank you for the excellent arrangements you have provided for this 5th Assembly of Tourism Councils in our National Capital Region (NCR),  also referred to as Metropolitan Manila or Metro Manila. To all the delegates and delegations from the 15 cities , in alphabetical order–Caloocan, Las Pinas, Makati, Malabon, Mandaluyong, Manila, Marikina, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Paranaque, Pasay, Pasig, Quezon City, San Juan, Taguig, Valenzuela–and Pateros, the lone  municipality– please accept my greetings and good wishes.

This is the second time that I am participating in the annual assembly of the NCR’S tourism councils.  Last November 1998, Mayor Vergel Aguilar of Las Pinas City who hosted the 4th assembly and  invited me even if my appointment as Secretary of Tourism had not yet  been confirmed by the Commission on Appointments. Thank you for your confidence,  Mayor Aguilar. Today, we are assembled here in Mandaluyong City for your 5th annual assembly.

This July is also the start of my second year as Tourism Secretary. Like many of our new Metropolitan Manila executives, I have had some worthwhile experiences. Perhaps, talking about what we have learned and achieved so far will be of benefit to your 5th assembly.

As many will remember, at the start of my  term, the “Rediscovery” Tourism Program of the Estrada administration was launched. This is based on a tourism master plan crafted by the DOT and the United Nations Development Program in 1991, since it was never finished, due to the rapid mobility of tourism secretaries, I decided to continue its relevant portions. I know that continuity is not a popular practice in our country, but I believe in continuing what is sustainable and viable.

“Rediscovery” emphasizes the fundamentals of tourism, it is a “back to basics” approach , it is community -based, it is sustainable tourism as opposed to temporary extravaganzas which are expensive and have no return on investments. The first thing that President Estrada did for tourism was to cancel a projected Mini-World Expo 2002 proposed by a former secretary; it would have wasted precious funds and desecrated the Quezon Memorial Circle, the proposed venue.

What was it like  at the end of 1998?  Not so good , the total tourist arrivals suffered a decline of about 3 per cent due to the negative effects of the Asian crisis which became a world crisis. Moreover, Philippine Airlines shut down because of labor problems.

However, this year is more hopeful. We  see tourist arrivals picking up;  from January to April of this year, visitor arrivals have already posted an increase of 3.2 per cent , compared to the same period of last year. Our top 5 travel markets are reviving, in fine, the USA, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. I want   to think that our “Rediscovery” Tourism Program  is starting to pay dividends, so to speak.

Even if we are not spending that much for advertising, because there is a dearth of funds, we have undertaken a couple of sales missions and have generated free publicity in Europe especially due  to some international events held here. We are confident that we will meet our target of 2.4 million visitor arrivals by the end of this year. Hopefully, the airlines will cooperate, as you know, 98 per cent of our visitors come by air.

The main thrust of “Rediscovery” is domestic tourism because that is our bread-and-butter; when international arrivals decline  for any reason, we can always depend on Filipinos to continue traveling around their country.  I learned that domestic tourism counts for more than half of our tourist trade. The DOT’S efforts to encourage Filipinos to rediscover their own country is proving to be a big boost to the industry. Many hotels and resorts have been established to cater to locals and many of our indigenous  communities, near our 8 Anchor Destinations are starting to benefit from community-based tourism. .

However, this does not mean that we have abandoned international tourism. In the framework of “Rediscovery” there are two programs designed to lure international visitors. These are:

  • Balikbayani Program
    This is for the Overseas Filipino Workers and Filipinos who reside abroad.  The DOT will transform them into excellent tourism front liners.
  • Discover Your Roots
    This is specially designed for 3rd and 4th generation Filipinos. The DOT wants to lure them to come and visit their ancestral homeland where their parents and grandparents were born.

Of course, we have our 8 Anchor Destinations which are for both domestic and international tourism. In case you have forgotten, they are:

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

Consider these  anchor destinations as gateways , like Metro Manila or the NCR is the entrance to our country.

In a survey conducted by the DOT last year, we found out that the greatest turnoff for tourists visiting the Philippines are the dirty restrooms, next to that, traffic congestion. Tourists waste so much time in traffic just to get to their final destination. I was informed that during this assembly, you will tackle the problem of cleanliness specially of dirty restrooms and the traffic   bottlenecks in Metro Manila. I am confident that there will soon be improvements along those lines.

You may have heard that we will soon have a new international airport terminal. This will relieve part of the congestion at the NAIA and will be big enough to handle 13 million passengers.

The Metro Rail Transit System along EDSA and the Skyway on the South Super Highway will be completed this year, so the NCR will be relieved of its traffic woes.

As I mentioned earlier, Metro Manila is the principal gateway of our country. Our metropolis has become a major shopping haven for world-class products, world class restaurants, theatres, hotels and entertainment centers. Cities that comprise the National Capital Region have become convention centers for international events. In October, Metro Manila will host the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council, your tourism councils should get ready  to make the most of that event. Other cities in our 8 Anchor Destinations like Quezon city, Baguio, Cebu and Davao are competing with Metro Manila  for convention tourism.

Aside from the “back to basics”, there is another aspect of the “Rediscovery” Tourism Program that the NCR should not neglect. I am referring to our thrust of promoting our native cultures, history, cuisine, tradition and arts. Metro Manila has lost a lot of its built heritage that made it the  fabled “Pearl of the Orient” many decades ago.  However, the beautiful period buildings , parks and plaza, landmarks that miraculously survived the Second World War have been mindlessly demolished by local government officials and real estate developers. I wish to bring this matter to the attention of the local governments and their tourism councils. You have to protect the vestiges of your past because these give our cities their special charm and uniqueness; these are  valuable tourism assets.

Realizing the potential of each  of the 16 cities and the lone municipality of the NCR is the collective challenge of your tourism councils. The Department of Tourism is committed to assist you face these challenges. Maybe I should invite myself to your 6th assembly in order to see what you would have achieved.

Once again,I appreciate your invitation   to this 5th assembly. Let us get to work!