THE FOUR ACES ON TOURISM: OPPORTUNITIES, ISSUES, CONCERNS AND POTENTIALS

DOT Secretary, Ramon Jimenez Jr.

DOT Secretary, Ramon Jimenez Jr.

For the first two months this year, the Philippines recorded a total of 854,187 tourist arrivals surpassing the first two months of 2012 at 772,989, an increase of 10.5%. The Department of Tourism said that the continued influx of foreign tourists will continue up to the summer months.

Koreans, which garnered the highest arrivals in 2012, topped the list with 241,116 visitors with the Americans and Japanese coming in second and third at 120,868 and 73,621 respectively.

Other nationalities include Chinese (69,610), Taiwanese (37,921), Australians (34,095), Singaporeans (25,800), Canadians (25,338), Hong Kong (23,097), Malaysians (18,947), Britons (18,563), and Germans (13,774).

This record shows that our country is in the right track to be a tourism hub in Asia. The DOT and tourism stakeholders have done a great job of marketing the tourism potentials of the Philippines. DOT’s slogan, “It’s more fun in the Philippines” has been achieving its mission to lure more tourists and investors to the country.  This slogan also inspired the Filipinos to take part in the campaign by sharing the wonders of the country and its rich history and culture.

DOT Secretary, Ramon Jimenez Jr., said that tourism records were reaching “unprecedented heights” with a target of 5.5 million this year and 10 million by 2016. “Our efforts are in full swing to raise greater demand, facilitate entry and access to the different destinations, and for our suppliers and host communities to come together and create fun-filled experiences. “We need to seize this momentum of rising global attention to reach more markets and bring about conversion,” he said.

“For the tourism sector also needs the aces in travel: access, accommodation, availability, action, and activity. Give more focus on domestic tourism first then go international, but for this to happen, we must make travel safe, secure, simple, with clean rest rooms, accommodations, and offer good services,” Real Estate Professional, Mr. Ramon CF Cuervo said. He gave his four Aces for tourism:

ACCESS

“Infrastructure such as airports, seaports, roads, is a backbone of tourism. Good working infrastructures will make travelling seamless, especially in using the Tourism Highway plan of former Tourism Secretary, Mina Gabor,” Mr. Cuervo, who was also the former Tourism Consultant of former DOT Secretary, Gemma Cruz-Araneta, said.

Mr. Ramon Cuervo with former DOT Secretary, Gemma Cruz Araneta.

Mr. Ramon Cuervo with former DOT Secretary, Gemma Cruz Araneta.

The World Bank has urged our government to increase its infrastructure spending in order to sustain the upward momentum of the country’s economy.

In its report “East Asia and Pacific Economic Update”, the World Bank said that “In the Philippines catching up on government infrastructure spending will provide the fiscal spark that is still missing in the country’s growth path, although infrastructure spending is gearing up recently.”

One analyst said that the country may be quite late in infrastructure development compared to its ASEAN neighbors, but it is better to start doing it late than not do it at all.

Jose EB Antonio, Century Properties chairman and former ambassador, echoed the same by saying that the Philippines cannot realize its potential as a tourist destination until the government puts in place the proper infrastructure.

Our government is doing everything to improve the infrastructure. With the help from the private sectors through the PPP Project, we’ve seen some developments in infrastructure such as improving the airports, building new airports, planning a Ro-Ro to Indonesia, a bullet train that will connect Clark International Airport to Manila, improving and building new roads, and more.

The Philippines can also look forward to regaining Category I status from the US Federal Aviation Administration and the subsequent lifting of the European Union ban after the recent lifting of the Significant Safety Concerns by the United Nations-International Civil Aviation Organization. This will lead to bring in more tourists.

Aside from that, the passing of Common Carriers Tax (RA 10376), improves and enhances the country’s competitiveness in the international travel and tourism arena.

“There is a need to improve our airports  and use smaller jets to provide fast, safe, efficient and comfortable air travel to all our major tourist and business destinations. Our travel has to be seamless,” Mr. Cuervo, also a former organizer of Business Opportunities in Tourism Investments, said.

There is also a plan to have a single ticket system of LRT and MRT called, Automatic Fare Collection System Project. The project introduces a smart card-based technology similar to the Octopus card system in Hong Kong and will make travel seamless, more convenient, and efficient.

“When I say access, it doesn’t only apply to the infrastructures, and so on. It also applies to accessibility for persons with disabilities and senior citizens,” Mr. Cuervo explained. “There are also tourists with disabilities and older tourists who need proper accessibility.”

He fully supports the Universal Design to be applied in all buildings and infrastructures in the country. Many countries have design that carters to accessibility of these people.

 ACTIVITY

 “Activity refers to what the tourists will do in the country to make their visit enjoyable and memorable and not to make them bored,” Mr. Cuervo said.

Activity developments have been going on in the country. Several international sporting events will be held in the country such as the Triathlon in Subic, International Wakeboard Championships in CamSur Watersports Complex, FIBA Asia Championships in MOA Arena, etc. This will attract foreigners to come and watch the shows in the Philippines.

The planned PAGCOR Enterntainment City.

The planned PAGCOR Enterntainment City.

Aside from sporting events, the country offers activities that are related to nature tripping. “We have a very beautiful natural resources and one of the rich in the world,” he said.

We have world-class tourist destinations where tourists can enjoy activities such as island hopping in Caramoan Island, diving at Malapascua Island, eating Filipino cuisines while touring in the river in Bohol, ATV trekking in Mayon Volcano, and so much more.

Soon, our country can be the “next Macau or Las Vegas” as the gaming sector is now beginning to start its development.

The Solaire Resorts and Casino, the hotel-casino complex of Enrique Razon-led Bloomberry Resorts Corporation, was recently opened last March 16. Another one is now in the works – Melco Crown and Henry Sy’s Belle Corporation signed a deal for the construction of the $1.3 billion Belle Grande hotel-casino. Other hotel-casinos that will open are Kazuo Okada’s Tiger Resorts Leisure and Entertainment and Malaysian company Genting Group, the partner of Andrew Tan-led Alliance Global Group.

These hotel-casinos are a part of the Entertainment City being planned by PAGCOR.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Government-accredited hotels have been reporting high average occupancy rates for the whole year.  For the past two years, hotel occupancy rates during peak season are usually at full capacity, which are prompting new investments in the hospitality sector.

According to Cyndy Jarabata, Metro Manila is expecting 55% increase of hotel room supply from 16,486 available rooms to 25,654 between 2012 to 2016. Another 4,099 rooms are expected to open outside the metropolis to accommodate the staggering tourism growth and puts the hospitality and tourism industry as investment vanguards.

“The Aquino government forecasts 10M foreign tourists and 35.5M domestic travellers by 2016, earning tourist receipts of P1.99 Trillion and estimates to generate 700,000 jobs,” Jarabata said. She views this as an ambitious target considering the tourism problems of the country such as the congested airports, lack of basic roads, poor airport infrastructures in some provinces, etc.

With the tourism boom, more and more Philippine real estate developers are venturing into hotel business and expanding their leisure products. According to property consultants, developers are more inclined to invest in hotel sector because they are bullish on the peaking tourism arrivals.

Mr. Karlo Pobre of Colliers International said that “hotel construction is seen to pick up with the Philippine capital doubling the existing 15,000 rooms in the next four to five years.”

The country’s biggest conglomerate, SM is adding 1,000 rooms to its portfolio with five hotels under the Park Inn by Radisson brand in the next five years. They are also planning to bring to the country the Conrad Hotel.

Ayala Land Inc. will double its hotel portfolio by 4,000 in 2015 and will develop an affordable hotel brand and the development of Seda Suites. They are also planning to expand in Visayas by building more tourism estates.

The Travellers International Hotel Group Inc. will commence the third phase of Resorts World Manila with the Sheraton and Hilton brands. The group, which is a joint venture between Global Group Inc and Genting Group, will also expand the Maxims and Marriott hotels.

The P.J. Lhuillier Inc. group of companies recently put up the Palm Rock Residences, a boutique hotel in Makati. This is their first foray into the highly competitive hotel industry in Metro Manila.

One of the beautiful places to see in the Philippines: Caramoan Island.

One of the beautiful places to see in the Philippines: Caramoan Island.

ATTRACTIONS

The Philippines has a lot of attractions to offer to tourists. We have beautiful beaches, green natures, and warm and hospitable people. Most of the sites were given international awards and recognitions.

“Where is the opportunity? The opportunity is we have the product. We have the beaches, mountains and the people. We have everything that is needed and required by tourists except they have nowhere to land. We’re looking towards the pronouncement of the government that more infrastructures will come into play very soon,” Antonio said.

So even if we have our products, infrastructure still plays a vital role in tourism.

“It is more than just hospitality or the smile but how good one feels when it’s more fun in the Philippines,” Mr. Cuervo said. “For us, real estate professionals, we need to help in the tourism industry because it a sunshine industry. We need to help to focus on developing the infrastructure such as airports, seaports, roads, which is the backbone of tourism. Good working infrastructures will make travelling seamless, especially in using the Tourism Highway plan of former Tourism Secretary, Mina Gabor.”

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