Waterfront Congress and Exhibition


Waterfront Congress and Exhibition
Opening remarks of  Secretary Gemma Cruz Araneta
Department of Tourism
Waterfront Hotel,  Cebu City
24 April 2000

I wish to thank the  Waterfront Congress and Exhibition for  inviting  the Department of Tourism  to Cebu city, the Queen of the south, one of our 8 Anchor Destinations.

By working together, we can come up with imaginative solutions to the accessibility problems of the Philippines.  As you know, 98 per cent of travelers come to the Philippines by air. But, because our country is an archipelago, we must also enhance accessibility by sea. The challenges beg for imaginative solutions  that  will make it easier for us Filipinos ( and foreigners as well) to rediscover our incredible country. I mentioned the word “rediscover”.  Allow me to take this opportunity to remind  you that  “Rediscovery” is  the tourism program of the Estrada administration which the Department of Tourism launched in 1998.

Why “Rediscovery”?

If you don’t mind, I will begin with a bit of historical background. In the 16th century, European map- makers could not complete the world map until Ferdinand Magellan  sailed across the Pacific Ocean and sighted a few islands. At that moment, he became to first European to  circumnavigate the world.  Those islands he saw now form part of the Philippines. So, it can be argued that the Philippines was what was missing in the world map. Today, when you come to the Philippines, you will find what is missing in your lives. That is the trope when we promote the Philippines in our main tourism markets abroad. However, “Rediscovery” is not just a marketing strategy, it is an umbrella program to promote both domestic and international tourism.

Domestic tourism should be our bread-and-butter and by promoting it, the Department of Tourism aims to arouse a “pride of place” in every Filipino. Domestic tourism  will also  strengthen our national identity, will make us appreciate our culture, history  and traditions  and make each Filipino the best and most effective tourism front liner.

The DOT has designated 8 Anchor Destinations, in fine, (1) Laoag/Vigan, (2) Baguio/Banawe, (3) Manila and environs, (4) North Palawan, (5) Cebu, (6)Boracay,(7) Bohol and (8)  Davao. Consider these 8 as the gateways of other potential destinations, please do not feel aggrieved if your town, city and province are  not yet included in this list.

For domestic tourism to flourish, there are certain conditions we have to improve and after taking a survey, the DOT has created the following projects to make domestic tourism a pleasurable and memorable experience.

We are  continuing   the “Tourism Friendship Highway” indicated in the Tourism Master Plan drafted by the DOT and UNDP in 1991. It is an excellent master plan drawn up under Sec. Narzalina Lim, but has remained unfinished due to the rapid mobility of secretaries  in the department.

The tourism highway begins at O point, the Rizal monument at the Luneta and is supposed to go to the 4 cardinal points. What  do we need in the tourism friendship highway? Basic cleanliness:  according to a DOT survey  the number one complaint of tourists is the lack of  clean rest rooms. So, the DOT  drew up a “Clean Rest Rooms” program and the  day after I announced this, the president of Shell Philippines, Mr. Oscar Reyes,  came  to my office  with a plan for upgrading the restrooms of all Shell stations along the “Tourism Friendship Highway”. Petron followed suit and so did PANTRANCO which pledged to upgrade the restrooms in all their pitstops on the tourism highway leading to Bicol. My sincere thanks to the presidents of these companies for their rapid response and staunch support.

In the framework of domestictourism,we also launched  the “Discover Your Roots” program designed for balikbayans, specifically the younger generations Fil-Americans and other Filipinos of the diaspora who are curious about their origins. There is also a   program for Agri-tourism,  still on the drafting board but which  will most probably include the Department of Agriculture and the Land Bank.

There was a time when we were considered Asia’s pioneer in the tourism industry,those were the years when Mr. lose Aspiras was the of Secretary of Tourism, Sunshine Joe, he was called. The Philippines had less than a million international tourist arrivals. Despite the glamorous road shows to the USA and Europe, despite the flood of collateral materials embellished with seductive smiles of pretty Filipinas, despite millions of pesos spent on fairs and trade extravaganzas, the number of international tourists barely  reached a million. Yet, we felt that all that hype was worth the expense; the Philippines began to have a kind of notoriety and market recall, BUTwe could not bring more than I million arrivals into the country! To this day, when Vietnam already has more than a million tourists, we are still at 2.1 to 2.2 million, which makes us wonder why. Is there something more to tourism than meets the eye?

Yes, there is. Accessibility is vital to the tourism industry. We can have excellent  infrastructure, the cleanest restrooms,  facilities of the highest quality and the most hospitable of front liners, but if travel to the Philippines is difficult and not seamless, our international arrivals will remain low. We are  an archipelago straddling the South China  Sea and the Pacific  Ocean, we have no neighbors  like countries in the mainland, so 98 per cent of those who want to visit us come  solely by air. In this context, the civil aviation policy of a country can have either a positive or a negative impact on tourism development.

President Joseph Estrada’s   civil aviation policy is a cautious  “progressive liberalization”  which is defined by the Association of Asian Pacific Airlines (AAPA) as the “ increased relaxation of rigid government controls on routes, frequency and capacity mounted by airlines usually on a reciprocal basis…”Ideally, there should be  equality  with regard to  opportunities  to develop and exploit markets and routes without limiting foreign access to any particular segment of traffic, or challenging consumer choice. The World Travel and Tourism Council adds that increased trade brought about by liberalized aviation policies raises the standards of living which allow people to have more time and money to travel and engage in tourism.

In the recent  past, there was an Executive Order No. 219  which heralded liberalization of the country’s international and domestic air lanes. That E O brought about efficiency and availability of air services which not only expanded trade and investments,  but also boosted tourism development by increasing the total number of airline seats. Between 1996 to 1997, the  air- seat capacity to the Philippines  increased to 6.8 million seats, so  in 1992, tourism arrivals reached 2.2 million.  What could have happened to EO No. 219?  if we had that air seat capacity today, we can easily attract 3.4 million tourists.

Last June, upon the instructions of President Joseph Estrada, the Departments of Tourism and of Transportation and Communications, headed by Secretary Vicente Rivera,  convened the “Tourism and Transportation Summit” with the objective of launching and implementing the administration’s “Progressive Liberalization” civil aviation policy. During the meeting, we   identified the obstacles to seamless travel  to and within the Philippines.  However, there are  still influential obstacles  in the way.

This Waterfront Congress and Exhibition which we are inaugurating today showcases  the continuous effort of the Estrada administration to formulate policies and strategies that create   conditions conducive to the full development of seamless travel  through liberalized air policies. The “Rediscovery “ program is founded on that,  as well as on the development of domestic tourism which  will inspire Filipinos to love and be proud of our  country and thereby become excellent front liners for the tourism industry.

Mabuhay tayong lahat!