Bernardo M. Villegas
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Rebalancing Strategy
published: Mar 31, 2017



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Tourism Can Promote Inclusive Growth (Part 1)

           The very catchy tourism slogan “It is more fun in the Philippines” has worked most successfully among the 40 million Filipinos who are the first tourists in their own country.  I am amazed at how many new tourist destinations are being mentioned by my relatives, friends and acquaintance away from the well trodden paths like Boracay, Puerto Princesa, Puerto Galera or Pagudpod.  More and more I hear about Coron, Malapascua, Camotes, Langgaman, Siquijor, Penablanca, etc.  Filipinos are discovering their own country and are actually contributing to the consumption-led growth that is sustaining the 6 to 7% rise in GDP annually.  Of course, a large part of these domestic tourists are the vacationing OFWs and their relatives.  Just imagine:  there are more than 10 million of them!  The Department of Tourism and the private travel agencies and related supported services are well advised to increasingly target this attractive market.

          That is why I am not especially worried if the figure for foreign tourists coming to the Philippines is dwarfed in comparison with those going to Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Singapore that can boast of tens of millions of foreign tourists.  At the moment, we have enough foreign exchange earnings from the remittances of OFWs and the revenues generated by the Business Process Outsourcing and Knowledge Process Outsourcing sectors that together are contributing over $50 billion to our Balance of Payments.  We can afford to just gradually build up foreign tourism as an alternative source of foreign exchange once the voice-oriented BPO enterprises start to taper off as the millennials increasingly turn to their smart phones for all their data and information needs, making voice irrelevant to them.  Meanwhile, domestic tourism can generate as much employment and income to Philippine regions as foreign tourism can.  We can also make sure that there will be less damage to our culture if we avoid the wrong kind of foreign tourism that we observe in some of our neighboring Southeast Asian countries in which sex-hungry males and drug addicts among the foreign visitors can spoil the moral environment.

          I dread the day when our beautiful beaches will be off limits to families with young children as has happened along the Mediterranean where skimpily dressed foreigners who think they are in nudist colonies serve as a deterrent to local families who hesitate to bring their young children to these places.  In some of these countries, families with young children have turned to spending summer vacations in the mountains instead of the beaches for this reason.  Now that more and more middle class Filipinos are discovering Japan as a very attractive tourism destination, we have a model of tourism predominantly based on the beauty of nature (the Sakura, for example) and the attractions of cultural and historical shrines and temples.  People who go to Japan are not usually looking for flesh spots. We should attract similar groups of foreign tourists, especially those who travel with whole families.

          Thanks to a publication of the Department of Tourism in cooperation with UNWTO and USAID, we can find very concrete evidences that tourism in the Philippines is helping economic growth to trickle down to the low-income groups.  Entitled Tourism Stories, the book chronicles specific examples of the benefits conferred by tourism on the less privileged Filipinos.  Take for example, the Aetas of Pamulaklakin, Subic Bay, Zambales.  Led by Dominador (Tatay Kasuy) Liwanag, the Aetas of Pastulan and Cinictican decided to go into nature tourism.  They had the necessary skills to become successful nature interpreters.  They knew very well all the jungle terrain and they had been teaching the art of jungle survival for years.  They educate the tourists they guide about the natural environment and about the Aeta culture.  Tourism helped Tatay Kasuy and his fellow Aetas create a new, secure, hopeful life.  The income they received as tourist guides put food on the table and helped them send their children to school.  They can be a model for other indigenous tribes like the Dumagats in Sierra Madre and the Mangyans in Mindoro.

          Another example that can be replicated in many other tourism destinations is that of Gloria Neron of Balete, Aklan.  Travelers who have to traverse the long and winding road from Kalibo, Aklan to Boracay Island  need a restroom stop.  Along the road, the enterprising Gloria manages a simple restroom stop that she manages for the municipality of Balete, Aklan.  The restroom also serves as a tourist information center, where travelers are discovering more interesting places such as the Unique Garbage Garden and the Pina cloth weaving workshop.  The management of the restroom have become a family affair.  Her daughter, Glodleyn, helps her attend to travelers at the reception area while her husband Rogelio, volunteers to clean and maintain the surrounding landscape.  This simple facility can be multiplied hundreds of times throughout the thousands of kilometers of the Philippine Nautical Highway that, thanks to the Administration of former President Macapagal Arroyo, connects our islands to one another and makes it possible for Filipino families to travel from Luzon all the way to Mindanao without leaving their car that can be loaded into Roll On Roll Off (RORO) boats.   (To be continued)