Fulfilling the Covenant


Fulfilling the Covenant
Secretary Gemma Cruz Araneta
Department of Tourism
Philippine Travel Agencies Association  (PTAA)
Induction of Officers
Peninsula Manila Hotel, 17 January 2000


Let us reminisce a bit. After a series of meetings, the Department of Tourism(DOT) and the private sector of the industry signed a Covenant on 23 September 1998, during Tourism Week. The Covenant was then presented to President Joseph Ejercito Estrada to show him that the main stakeholders of the tourism industry and the DOT were ready to work as a team for the successful development of Philippine tourism.

This evening, during this auspicious occasion, allow me to highlight a few points related to our  historic Covenant. We agreed to project the Philippines as a wholesome destination with emphasis on culture, history arts and natural attractions.

On 22 December 1998,  I presented to you the “Rediscovery” Tourism Program of the Estrada Administration  in the most unlikely occasion and place. We were in the august halls of Congress, during the bi-cameral meeting of the Commission on Appointments.  Some members of the private sector tour and travel groups were there to show their support for the confirmation of my appointment as Secretary of Tourism.

I was finally confirmed on that day and I would like to believe that it was because the Representatives and Senators there present realized that it was about time the Philippines had a tourism program like “Rediscovery”  which capitalizes on Filipino culture, history, arts as well as on natural attractions with which this country is  blessed.

Once again, let me thank you for the immeasurable support you showed during the  prickly confirmation process. You  continued giving me your assistance during my  first 18 months at the helm of the Department of Tourism.

Let me review the narrative of the  “Rediscovery” Tourism Program: In the 16th century, European cartographers could not finish a detailed map of the world until Ferdinand Magellan sited some islands which are now part of the Philippines. So, we can rightfully say that the Philippines was what was missing in the world map. Today, when you come to the Philippines, you will find what has been missing in your lives.

“Rediscovery” , as a marketing pitch, has been widely accepted by the tourismcouncils at the regional, provincial and municipal levels.  It was also accepted by our mainstream tourism markets during our sales missions abroad last year.

However, “Rediscovery” goes beyond the imperatives of international and domestic marketing because it has a noble purpose and that  is to awaken “pride of place” in every Filipino, instill a love of country, thereby  strengthening the Filipino identity.

Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot deny that the best tourism promoter is a Filipino who knows, loves and is proud of the Philippines.

Through “Rediscovery” we will convert our history, our varied cultures, traditions and natural attractions into alluring and sustainable tourism products. Culture, history and the arts are not only for the elite or for the academics, these are immutable tourism assets  the marketing of which will redound to the benefit of the communities where these are found. Let us make this happen soon so we can stop lamenting that our Asian neighbors  are more enchanting because they have successfully projected their distinct cultures in the world tourism market.

Another clause in the our Covenant pertains to budget, which the DOT should spend judiciously on the sustainable development and maintenance of our 8 Anchor destinations, on tourism promotion and the upgrading of  facilities and services.

In CY 2000, the DOT has allocated Php 124, 753,000.00  for international promotions, of which Php 80 million (64 per cent) is earmarked for marketing efforts  of the DOT’S  overseas offices. Forty- two million pesos are for the production of collateral materials in support of our sales and promotional efforts.

The Covenant also states that the stakeholders of the industry and the DOT will lobby for  a bigger percentage of taxes and government levies generated from tourism-related establishments like the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA) and the Philippines Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR). We have yet to form a cohesive and influential lobby group for the tourism industry, so  let us attend to that right away.

I believe that the private sector stakeholders should actively participate in the budget-planning of the DOT. That is why the heads of all private sector associations related to the industry have been invited to the  planning session for the CY 2001-2003 budget which will take place on January 19, two days from now. I hope you have already received your invitations and the attached working documents. Please make an effort to attend. I need your guidance and the  wisdom of your experience.

With regard to infrastructure which the Covenant rightly recognizes as vital to the tourism industry, I have taken the following measures to strengthen critical linkages with other line departments.

Last July, I invited Secretary Robert Aventajado of the Flagship Committee to Panglao Island in Bohol ( one of our 8 Anchor Destinations) so he could meet with Governor Rene Relampagos,   Vice-Governor Ed Chatto, other members of the local government as well as the private sector. Presentations were made about tourism development in Bohol with special emphasis on the Panglao Tourism Estate. Secretary Aventajado has since then included this in the Flagship Committee projects. There are plans for an airport in Panglao.

Last Friday, 14 January, the NEDA conducted a whole-day meeting to review government projects with foreign funding because there are funds and grants available to the Philippines which  have not been used. I submitted to NEDA a number of plans that Provincial Boards have sent to my office. Secretary Medalla appointed one of his assistants to work with Ms. Jo Sevilla of the DOT investments section so viable projects can be extracted from those plans and presented for foreign funding. Needless to say, such projects will first be presented to the private sector before submittal to the NEDA. One of our priorities should be tourism-oriented infrastructure for seamless travel.

The matter of Transport Policies is a vital part of the Covenant. As you know, last 22-24 June 1999,  the Departments of Tourism and Transportation and Communications convened a “Tourism and Transportation Summit”  during which it was announced that “progressive liberalization” is the aviation policy of the Estrada administration. Together, we should continue to work for the implementation of this policy and for the return of the chairmanship of the Civil Aeronautics Board to the Secretary of Tourism.

As you know, last September (1999) the Department of Tourism and Singapore Airlines (SIA) signed a Tourism Cooperation Agreement. SIA will promote the Philippines in areas not covered by any of our national carriers like Europe, Australia and New Zealand. The value of SIA’s promotions is US$ 1 million , it is not a cash donation to the DOT. The agreement with the SIA is a blessing because last 30 September, the agreements with EVA Air and China Air were unilaterally abrogated and that had a terrible effect on inbound travel from one of our main Asian markets. However, let us always look at the bright side; I think the public is becoming more awareof the relationship between the number of international arrivals and the available seat capacity of airlines.

This morning, President Estrada led the ground-breaking ceremonies for NAIA 3 passenger terminal, a project of PIATCO. The capacity of the new terminal is  13 million passengers yearly. It will cost US$ 500 million and will be finished in 30 months.

My friends, at present, we have less than 5 million airline seats for both inbound and outbound traffic.  I brought this up to Secretary Rivera of Transportation and Communications and told him we have to urgently  increase the number of frequencies and seats so NAIA 3 can be used to its  maximum capacity. We need more progressive civil aviation policies to improve accessibility to the Philippines. As you know, we are advocates of “open skies” which has provoked the ire of certain people. Anyway, “progressive liberalization” is a good start.

One of the components of the “Rediscovery” Tourism Program is the Tourism Friendship Highway . Next month,  the DOT will organize special tours and caravans to take  tourism front liners, domestic and international tourists, students, workers  on sightseeing tours to the anchor destinations accessible by land and sea. With the support of Shell Philippines (they have upgraded their restrooms) , the first caravan will start in Vigan where the DOT has a heritage restoration project funded by the Spanish Government. The caravan will travel south to  Matnog where the DOT is setting up a  resting area with clean bathrooms and commercial establishments for traveler who are waiting to take the ferry boats  to the Visayas. The local governmentsare our partners in this endeavor.

There will also be caravans from Region 4, heading north towards Regions 1 and 2. In fact,  Budget Secretary Ben Diokno is seriously thinking of joining one for he is an advocate of domestic tourism. The PTAA should make its own caravan packages , with competitive prices as indicated in the Covenant. We will also invite members of the tri-media so they can help us avert negative publicity about the Philippines.

There are other clauses in our  Covenant which provide for legislation that will foment sustainable tourism development, the preservation of culture, history and the arts. The DOT is in dire need of lawyers who can  monitor for us pending bills and existing legislation , to make sure these are tourism-friendly. Atty. Bartolome Fernandez, Jr. has offered his free legal services but we need more volunteers because the legal offices of senators and representatives are not always on the lookout for tourism issues.

There is an Economic Mobilization Group which meets regularly in Malacañang  and that is where I present components of “Rediscovery” Tourism Program that need investors from both government and private sectors. President Estrada has just signed an executive order creating the “Central East Asia Growth Circle,”  I will present the “Save the Ifugao Rice Terraces “ project  which I received from their  provincial board. That area is one of our anchor destinations.

We have to establish , perhaps institutionalize, a consultative mechanism among the stakeholders of the tourism industry. We can do this through the DOT’s  Philippine Convention and Visitors Corporation which has private sector members in its board. Another way is through a bi-monthly “Tourism Merienda” which Mr. Larry Cruz has so kindly offered to host, in one of his restaurants in Malate. That is where we can address current issues and problems, as well as  review the status of programs and  take stock of what we have accomplished.

Ladies and gentlemen of the PTAA , at this point,  I would like to present a copy of the DOT’S performance record for the first year,  the very same that  I presented to President Estrada last November 29.  Do not hesitate to send me your comments and criticisms, please.

Congratulations once again to the newly-inducted officers of the Philippine Travel Agencies Association. Mabuhay!