Page last updated at 05:53 CST6CDT, Wednesday, 17 February 2010 PH
There is no question that an industry that can significantly contribute to economic growth and employment generation is tourism. The Philippines has lagged behind its Southeast Asian neighbors like Thailand and Malaysia (and now even Vietnam) in attracting foreign tourists because of our very poor infrastructures in the countryside, where most of our tourism sites are. As a case in point, even one of our most popular tourism destinations--Boracay--is quite difficult to reach. Fortunately, in the last five years there have been some major improvements in infrastructures, such as the Northern Luzon Expressway and the Philippine Nautical Highway. In a short while, the Southern Luzon Expressway will also be much improved. Also a cause for celebration is brand new airports in such places as Bacolod, Iloilo. Davao, and hopefully soon the Laguindingan Airport between Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. From the pronouncements of the leading presidential candidates, countryside infrastructure will be on top of the agenda of the next Government, continuing what the present Administration has begun.
Considering, however, the slow recovery that is expected in the countries of origin of our top foreign tourists (the U.S. and Japan), we cannot expect a high growth in foreign tourism in the immediate future. Only South Korea may show a larger increase in tourists to the Philippines. Europe, too, will take some time in recovering. For this reason, we should focus much of our attention on domestic tourism and in convincing the balikbayans to take their families to places in the Philippines outside their respective residences. Our travel agencies should promote a Know Your Country program to the returning OFWs during the Christmas Season and beyond. The experience of Cebu, for example, during 2009 when there was a noticeable drop in foreign tourists highlighted the importance of domestic tourism. The absence of foreign tourists was hardly noticed because there were many Filipino families traveling to Cebu and surrounding destinations like Bohol and Dumaguete.
It may actually be a blessing in disguise that traveling Filipino families are still predominant in our tourism industry. They set a high moral standard, minimizing the proliferation of sex tourism and beaches with scantily dressed foreigners, which have become a blight in numerous European beaches along the Mediterranean. In fact, European families with young children avoid going to the beaches during the summer because of the scandalous way the tourists dress (or undress). These families prefer to go to the mountains. During the summers I spent recently in Spain, I met many of these families in the ski resorts of the Pyrenees which are converted to family lodges in the months of June to September.
In this regard, Pope Benedict XVI in his recent encyclical Charity in Truth referred to international tourism, which can be a major factor in economic development and cultural growth, but can also become an occasion for exploitation and moral degradation. The Pope assesses both the positive and negative aspects of international tourism: "The current situation offers unique opportunities for the economic aspects of development--that is to say the flow of money and the emergence of a significant amount of local enterprise--to be combined with cultural aspects, chief among which is education. In many cases this is what happens, but in other cases international tourism has a negative educational impact both for the tourist and the local populace. The latter are often exposed to immoral or even perverted forms of conduct, as in the case of so-called sex tourism, to which many human beings are sacrificed even at a tender age. It is sad to note that this activity often takes place with the support of local governments, with silence from those in the tourists' countries of origin, and with complicity of many of the tour operators."
Another negative impact of tourism on the receiving country is some kind of cultural contamination coming from a consumerist and hedonistic lifestyle prevalent in the countries of origin. As the Pope comments: "Even in less extreme cases, international tourism often follows a consumerist and hedonistic pattern, as a form of escapism planned in a manner typical of the countries of origin, and therefore not conducive to authentic encounter between persons and cultures. We need, therefore, to develop a different type of tourism that has the ability to promote genuine mutual understanding, without taking away from the element of rest and healthy recreation. Tourism of this type needs to increase, partly through closer coordination with the experience gained from international cooperation and enterprise for development."
Among the more healthy and sound types of tourism in which the Philippines can excel is "English language tourism." Already tens of thousands of South Koreans are coming to the Philippines to perfect their English. This can be extended to other Asian countries like Vietnam, Indonesia and China where many young people are also eager to improve their English proficiency. Another form of tourism that has already begun is medical tourism, which can target countries with aging populations like Japan. Medical tourism can evolve into programs for long-staying senior citizens who can spend some months of the year in our retirement villages. There is also the possibility of religious tourism for Asian Catholics. Major shrines like Antipolo, Penafrancia, Sto. Nino de Cebu, Sto. Domingo, Manaoag and Piat can be promoted among the devout Catholics coming from Vietnam, South Korea, China, India and other Asian countries. Already the South Koreans have a shrine of their first martyr, St. Andrew Kim Taegon in Lolomboy, Bulacan. A national shrine of St. Padre Pio, very popular among Catholics all over the world, is being built in Sto. Tomas, Batangas. There is also already sports tourism like the one that Governor Elrey Villafuerte has developed in Camarines Sur and surfing for Australians in Baler of Aurora Province. Already quite advanced is scuba diving in such places as Anilao in Batangas and in Camiguin Island. Finally, there are groups looking into hosting youth camps for North American teenagers who are having difficulty looking for Camp Counsellors in the U.S. We can develop a corps of Camp Counsellors among our university graduates who can take care of the typical summer camp that former generations of Americans enjoyed. Other forms of morally sound tourism can be developed according to the creativity of our tourism operators. We still have time to avoid the moral degeneration that resulted from international tourism in some countries of Europe and Southeast Asia. For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.