Bernardo M. Villegas
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Getting Ready for Tourism Boom (Part 1)

          It is a no brainer to predict that the tourism industry will join the BPO-IT sector as one of the engines of growth for employment, foreign exchange earnings and GDP growth in the not too distant future. With more than 7,000 islands, the Philippine Archipelago has many more tourist destinations to offer than most of our Southeast Asian neighbors (except Indonesia) who attract twice to five times more foreign tourists than we.  The major obstacle has been the lack of efficient infrastructures, especially modern airports and rural road networks.  Thailand’s Government got it right when in the 1980s, there was a massive effort to build farm-to-market roads all over the country, thus hitting two birds with one stone. They enabled their small farmers to bring their products more efficiently to the market while at the same time making their tourist destinations accessible to foreign visitors.  It was exactly the opposite in the Philippines.  Not only did we prejudice our farmers by not endowing them with efficient infrastructures.  We also made it extremely difficult for tourists—whether foreign or domestic—to reach our hundreds of tourist attractions.  The most obvious example is the so-called “jewel” of Philippine tourism, Boracay.  Going there is truly a hassle for the foreign tourist.

         There are reasonable expectations that the Duterte Administration will be able to improve significantly the physical conditions of our regional airports as well as rural infrastructures.  There will no longer be a fixation on Boracay.  The first beneficiary of a more modern airport will be Panglao in Bohol.  Then there will be better access to San Vicente and Coron in Palawan, Laguindingan in Northern Mindanao, Iloilo in Panay, Bacolod in Negros Occidental, Davao and a host of small regional airports that can be built by LGU units in partnership with private businesses under the Local Government Code of 1991.  Improvement in access to the less well known destinations will attract investors in such island paradises as Siquijor, Guimaras, Camiguin, Malapascua, Langgaman, Lio, etc.  In Palawan alone, there are 2,000 islands from among which investors can choose to develop tourism resorts.  Lio is actually one of them which the Ayala group plans to develop as a middle-income equivalent of El Nido.  In Luzon, there are the surfing attractions of Baler, Aurora and San Juan, La Union and the almost unlimited beaches of Batangas and Cavite.

         We must be ready to avoid what has happened to the construction sector in which the building boom of late has led to critical shortages of skilled workers, many of whom have decided to work abroad.  The tourism industry is especially vulnerable to poaching by foreign employers because Filipino workers in this sector are among the most employable in foreign hotels, restaurants and cruise ships.  While residing in Barcelona, for example, I realized that many of the world-class restaurants there prefer Filipino waiters for their unique ability to be pleasant to the customers.  We cannot assume that the thousands of hotel rooms being added in the coming two to three years and the hundreds of restaurants that are being established all over the country will automatically have the needed manpower supply.

         That is why I am glad that President Duterte did not carry out his threat at the beginning of his Presidency to cancel the K to 12 curriculum.  Thanks to some proactive Department of Education officials in Davao, the President was persuaded to change his mind.  Under this new curriculum in which two years have been added to the high school level, our educational system can turn out tens of thousands of human talents for the hospitality industry, especially under the German-inspired dual training system.  Not surprisingly, the model school that has turned out hundreds of restaurant and hotel workers over the last forty one years, the Punlaan School in San Juan, Metro Manila, had been approved to pilot the Senior High School program two years before the official start of the K to 12.  Much can be learned by high schools from all over the country from this TESDA-certified school that was awarded by the German Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry as one of the best examples of dual training in the Philippines.  Dual training as perfected in Germany over centuries involves complementing classroom instruction with on-the-job training in partner business establishments.  Among the industry partners of Punlaan are such leaders in the hospitality industry as Taal Vista  Hotel,  Marco Polo Hotel, Holiday Inn and Suites, Diamond Hotel, The Bellevue Manila,  The Henry Hotel, the Max Group Inc., Annabel’s, Conti’s Cafe, Mary Grace,  Carpaccio,  Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Pico de Loro Beach and Country Club, and Rockwell Club, among many others.

         Punlaan, that is currently expanding and modernizing its facilities in its San Juan City campus, is a model school, not only for the excellent technical training it imparts to its students, but more importantly for the values and virtues formation that is an integral part of its whole-person approach to education.  Its partner institutions swear to the honesty and integrity, as well as diligence and attention to details, that characterize the graduates of Punlaan.  For more than forty years, it has been contributing to what is now known as inclusive growth because practically all of its students come from low-income households.  Thanks to the generosity of numerous benefactors, all of its students are under full scholarship.  (To be continued).