As I noted in my column yesterday, the tourism related websites of the Government of the Philippines are, unfortunately, in a mess. There are simply too many such websites, and each of them seems to be pulling potential tourists in a different direction. In addition to that, much of the information listed on these sites is outdated.
Is this important? Does it really matter much? Well, if you are a poor person in the Philippines (and there are plenty of them around), you better believe that it matters. For years, maybe for decades now, the Philippines has looked to tourism as an industry that could save the country, and pull it up to a higher standard of living.
Where else can the Philippines capitalize and improve the economy? It doesn’t look like the Philippines will become an Industrial power anytime in the foreseeable future. Most manufacturing that is leaving the first world is going to countries like China where labor is very cheap. Labor in the Philippines, while cheap by western standards, is quite expensive in comparison to many of it’s neighbors. Also, the labor laws in the Philippines are generally very worker-friendly. Because of this, it is unlikely that many foreign manufacturers will locate to the Philippines.
When it comes to agricultural production, at this point the Philippines is doing all it can to just keep up with local consumption. As a matter of fact, for almost a decade now, the Philippines has been forced to import rice and other basic commodities from Thailand in order to feed the population. So, it doesn’t look like the Philippines will become rich by exporting food and other agricultural products.
One area where the Philippines is indeed seeing some growth is in the services sector. Call centers, Business Process Outsourcing and such are making strides here. However, the strength of the Philippine Peso is beginning to have a negative impact on the Call Center industry here. Because the Peso is so strong these days, that means that it is getting more expensive for foreign businesses to locate here.
Tourism is the natural place to look in order to strengthen the Philippine economy. Let’s face it, the Philippines is a natural tourist haven, if only tourism were promoted in a better way! The Philippines has so many natural wonders that can attract tourists to come and visit. There is the beauty of the islands, and more than 7,000 of them to choose from! There are festivals somewhere in the country nearly every day of the year. There are many places where you can see indigenous people who are still living life in much the same way that their ancestors did centuries ago. There are true wonders that are almost unbelievable, like the Rice Terraces in Luzon.
So, with all these wonderful tourist destinations, why is the Philippines not a popular tourist spot? Well, I believe that the reason for this is that the Philippines, unfortunately, has a terrible image! When you mention the Philippines to people who have not been here before, they invariably ask about kidnapping. They hear that it is hot, polluted, dirty, crime ridden. The truth is, in my opinion, that many of these issues is way overblown!
- Hot? Well, yes, it is hot here. But instead of having people think of people sitting in lines at the airport sweating, why not promote images of people frolicking on the beaches, swimming in the beautiful waters? These are hot weather activities, yet enjoyable!
- Polluted, Dirty? There indeed are some polluted areas in the Philippines. However, if you get out of the major cities, you can really find some areas that are quite pristine. The majority of the islands are relatively unpolluted. Yes, in areas that get a lot of traffic there is plenty of trash that is thrown out along the roads and such. Nothing major, but things like coke cans, wrappers from snack food, or whatever. How about the Department of Tourism sponsoring a clean-up campaign? How about some re-training of people so that they learn to keep the area clean? It is not such a major problem that it can’t be turned around!
- Crime Ridden? Really, crime in the Philippines is not a huge concern. Violent crime is actually fairly low here, when compared to some other countries. For example, how many tourists get murdered here? Very few. How many tourists get kidnapped? Not many at all. The perception is that these things happen all the time, but it is just not the case. I would say that it has been a minimum of 5 years since there was a major case of a foreigner or tourist in the Philippine being kidnapped. I also have a high degree of certainty that more foreign tourists get killed in the USA than here in the Philippines. Honestly, I don’t remember any recent cases of a foreign tourist getting murdered here. Yes, there is some petty crime – pickpocketing and such, but that is true anywhere you go on earth.
Now, honestly, why isn’t the Philippines doing some self-promotion, advertising the positive sides of the place, in order to counter the negative opinions out there?
You know, it doesn’t even take a huge increase in tourism to start putting a few more clerks to work in hotels, to get more jobs for waiters and waitresses. How about tour guides that can show people around the islands. More tourists means that more taxi drivers are needed to carry them around, more tricycle drivers. How about some resurgence in the old horse drawn carriages (tartanillas)? These are the kinds of things that tourists love! I can see more rural areas where you might have a carabao pulling a wagon that tourists can ride in. That is the kind of thing that is unusual enough that people go home and tell their friends about! And, the more friends they tell, the more other people will come here, which means that more Filipinos will be at work! That also means more airline flights, so more pilots, more stewardesses, etc. It is a process that feeds upon itself!
For the good of the Filipino people, and the good of the country itself, the Department of Tourism needs to get busy! Spend some money to promote the place, it would be a good investment! Are there things in the Philippines that are lacking, or below standard? Yes, there sure are, but those are things that can be fixed! Certainly, the Philippines isn’t dragging too far behind Thailand, and Thailand has a lot more tourists than the Philippines does!