Let me start this installment with a couple updates. I was in Manila for a few days on business and I noticed a program promoted by the DOT that runs two shuttle vans on hourly routes between major hotels and tourist attractions in Manila. It’s run by a company called Busina and uses the somewhat catchy slogan, “Sakay na” (Ride now!). There’s a good write-up on it here. This is an excellent step in the right direction, and as I have been advocating, it’s a private enterprise venture that pays its own way. Good work.
Another piece of current news is that Manila’s main airport, NAIA has finally gotten around to putting a free, regular shuttle service between the four widely scattered terminals in place … see the article here. This of course is not a self-supporting venture, but considering the distance between terminals and the traffic congestion this will save alone, it should be well worth the cost. Hats off. Now, if someone could just answer the mail that would assure me that situations that happened to Bob’s mom back a year and a half ago have been corrected, I might not only take my hat off, but leave it on and salute.
I think the situation with late night passengers being left to fend for themselves is still occurring, but I can’t be sure … because just as Bob wrote back with this situation came to light, people at the DOT and elsewhere still don’t answer their email.
Mr. Secretary? If you are still reading, here’s a suggestion for something that will improve your count of foreign visitors dramatically, if you chose to take advantage of it. It’s dirt cheap and it has proven effective all over the world of business … not just in tourism:
- Insure that every person in your department whom you expect to answer public inquiries has an email address.
- Have a staff person send each of those folks and email with a request to respond by the next business day.
- Fire all those who don’t reply to their own cabinet secretary.
- If any of the non-responders can show the email didn’t work, fire the non-performers in your IT department.
Simple. cheap, and effective. It’s all about accountability. People who feed at the Public Trough owe a response to those who pay their salary.
Of course a bit tongue in cheek, because given the current state of email communication there won’t be enough employed individuals left to process the termination paperwork for the rest … but perhaps you can read past the implied humor and see the potential for your department. If a person is considering travel to the Philippines and sends your department an email query … after all, your department is supposed to be an “authoritative source”, is it not? … don’t they deserve a timely answer?
While you are at it, you might consider putting an accountability monitor to work on all the many and varied businesses whom your department “accredits” and allow to display your DOT seal. In the year of 2009, there is absolutely no excuse for any hotel or other tourist attraction/destination not to have an email address and not to respond to queries. Email accounts are free, and checking email, even without a computer (using an Internet Cafe, for example) costs only a few pesos a week. I think it’s very counter productive to your goals to “accredit” businesses who won’t even respond to customer queries. Again, this requires essentially no monetary outlay, just the application of rules of common courtesy in support of the work that your employees are already being paid to perform.
When prospective tourist gets no answer, what do you think the odds are they will continue to pursue their travel to the Philippines? I’ve personally had a role in a total of two independent tourists visiting the Philippines in the nearly three years I have lived here. Not many. There are many more friends and family I would love to encourage to visit, but quite frankly the way tourists are treated, especially in the first hours of their arrival, keeps me apprehensive. The only people I’d even consider inviting here are those I have a close enough relationship with that I would personally go to the airport to pick up myself, because there is no one on my list I dislike enough to subject to the NAIA “gulag” experience alone.
Let me detail for you just one current example. Not long ago my son paid us a visit here in the Philippines. I “pre-briefed” him on the flimsy, difficult to write on and overly complex arrival form he would have to fill up on the airplane. When he got to the part about “Address in the Philippines”, he found he had forgotten my address and misplaced the piece of paper he had written it on. When he got to the Immigration kiosk the BI officer told him, “No address, No entry” and sent him off to a windowless interrogation room, exactly as if he was suspected of a crime. Another official, came in and told him he would be held until the next flight out to the US and denied entry since he had no pre-arranged place to stay. Nice welcome on his first visit to your country, diba? If there is a law that a visitor must have already arranged for a place to stay, I’m not aware of it … and if such a law exists, I would submit it, at the very least should be made known in advance. I have personally entered more than 10 other countries in my years of travel and not one other one has required me to enter an address for my stay. I have also perused all the data I can find on the Bureau of Immigration web site and any other official sources I know of, and I see no requirement to have a pre-arranged address listed as one of the criteria for entry of visitors to the Philippines. Is this some secret law, classified for the protection of the security of the Republic?
My son was detained like a criminal for nearly an hour … while I paced the prison-like waiting area outside wondering what might be wrong . For all I know he’d still be incarcerated for the “crime” of not memorizing his father’s street address … except that a helpful fellow from the airport janitorial staff … nor your staff nor anyone else from a government agency … came in to clean the room, asked my son what the problem was, and advised him, “Oh just write down ‘Manila Hotel’, that will work, they don’t really care, it’s just that the DOT requires something on the form”.
My son did so and immediately was released, with smiles all around, as if the BI officer knew the ‘address’ was a fabrication, but his mission was complete because there were words in the box on the form rather than a blank space.
Proper way to treat a visitor in your view, sir?. Yes, I know, you don’t run the Bureau of Immigration. But I ask you, as a cabinet level official, is this the way you want visitors to the Philippines treated? Can’t you and your BI counterpart sit down and make a gentleman’s agreement on modifying this situation? It wouldn’t cost a peso and it might just gain the Philippines many more pesos in tourist income.
Thanks for reading, sir, and good luck with your efforts in attracting tourists … convince me that the Philippines actually wants tourists and I might get busy and send a few your way.