Bernardo M. Villegas
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Filipinos Discover Their Own Country

           Most of those who talk about tourism in the Philippines focus on foreign visitors. On this score, we compare very poorly with our neighbors like Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia who have exceeded 10 million foreign tourists long ago while we are struggling to break the 5 million mark.  This should not come as a surprise because of our very poor record in building infrastructures.

          Although we have arguably more attractive destinations with our 7,100 islands, our tourism sites are generally inaccessible.  We are notorious for having some of the worst airports in the world and our transport connections leave a lot to be desired.  As reported by tourism economist Ms. Maria Cherry Lyn Rodolfo in the mid-year economic briefing of the University of Asia and the Pacific last June 11, we had only 4.7 million foreign tourists in 2013 spending some $101 per person per day and spending an average of  9.6 nights.  Some 57 percent of them are here on holiday while 10 percent are on business.  The rest would be balikbayans visiting their relatives.  The most frequently visited places are relatively few:  Tagaytay, Laguna, Cebu, Aklan/Kalibo/Boracay, Pampanga, Bohol, and Puerto Galera.  About 81 percent come from the Asia Pacific region.  Northeast Asians (South Korea, Japan and China) constitute 49 percent.  Only 9 percent come from our neighboring ASEAN countries.

          The good news, though, is that it is domestic travel that forms the backbone of Philippine tourism, as reported by Ms. Salazar.  In 2013 there were 44.7 million Filipinos who traveled out of their homes to different destinations in the country.  By 2016, these domestic tourists will swell to 56 million, half of the population.  Domestic tourism is clearly one of the major beneficiaries of the two leading engines of growth:  $25 billion of OFW remittances and $15 billion of revenues of the BPO/KPO industry employing some 900,000 workers which can rise to 1.5 million by 2016.  Just multiply these dollar revenues by an average of 44 pesos to a US dollar.  That is the purchasing power of millions of households that yearly stimulate spending on consumer goods and services.  One obvious beneficiary is the real estate market for mid-level housing that costs anywhere from one to five million pesos per unit, the segment that is in no danger of an oversupply at least for the next five years.  Next to housing is domestic travel.  Relatives of overseas workers and the BPO employees have the money to discover the beaches, the diving and surfing spots, the mountains and caves, the centuries-old churches and other cultural heritages.  The fifteen or so million inhabitants of the Metro Manila area and surrounding satellite cities are going beyond the familiar destinations of Batangas, Cavite, and Laguna and are increasingly talking about Coron, Puerto Princesa in Palawan; Puerto Galera, Pinamalayan, Naujan Lake in Mindoro Oriental; Dumaguete and Siquijor in Central Visayas; and competing with foreign tourists in the leading spots of Cebu and Bohol; Cagayan de Oro, Camiguin and Bukidnon in Northern Mindanao; La Union, Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur in Northern Luzon and dozens of other sites heretofore unknown to Filipinos separated by islands from one another.   One major gamechanger was the construction of the Philippine Nautical Highway during the Administration of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  Through a seamless network of roads, seaports, and roll-on-roll-off boats, an entire family can travel by car from Manila to Zamboanga in a couple of days.

          These domestic travelers will give rise to greater demand for land, sea and air transport.  Some 50 million domestic tourists will need more accommodations, especially in bed-and-breakfast facilities along the Philippine Nautical Highway and other scenic routes like the Viaje del Sol in Southern Tagalog.  These facilities can be small businesses managed by family enterprises and can generate employment in the countryside as long as there are training programs for hospitality workers.  For large and medium-sized enterprises, there are opportunities for boutique hotels like the Microtels of the PHINMA group, the SEDA hotels of the Ayalas, the Crimson hotels of the Gotianuns, and others put up by local entrepreneurs in such places as Puerto Princesa, Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo and other most frequently visited sites.  In a recent investment road show I headed in selected U.S. cities, I told Fil-Americans who asked about business opportunities in the Philippines today to consider going back to their home provinces and putting up these bed-and-breakfast or boutique hotels which will be direly needed.  Needless to say, these hotels will have to be complemented by a host of new restaurants and eating places that will feature, among other dishes, the specialty cuisine of each region, as as those in Pampanga, the Bicol region or Western Visayas.  The presentation of Ms.Rodolfo opened the eyes of those who attended the briefing to the business opportunities created by close to 50 million Filipinos discovering their own country.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.