'Minsan pa, turismo'
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That the government plans to spend P12 billion this year and P17 billion next year on tourism infrastructure gladdens. Tourism after all can be a major growth and development driver.
Let me begin with commending the improvements inside NAIA 1. Traffic inside flows smoother and the toilets are finally nothing to be ashamed of -- waterless urinals, also running water from the taps and green plants. The halls are brighter now. If they could also ensure that all the defective trolley wheels are fixed and the vehicular traffic in and out of our terminals finally made to flow more smoothly. Will anyone dare ask Mike Velarde to provide proper parking spaces for the jeeps that constrict the main road on the evenings of their worship?
The targeted infrastructures are those that will give improved access to tourist spots in the country. The airports of Kalibo, Caticlan and Bohol immediately come to mind, and so does the problem with Manila’s overcrowded airport. Most of the delays in flights have been caused by air traffic in Manila! And most of our seaports, except perhaps the "2GO" terminal in South Harbor need massive improvements.
But roads, air- and seaports aren’t all that we need to improve and/or build.
Our mass transport systems need a major overhaul. Our bus systems need major upgrades, from the buses to the bus stations to the way stops. We will do well to stop paying lip service to reviving our railway system and finally revive it, from purchasing the right prime movers and railcars of various categories, rebuilt-to-world-standard train stations and dual tracks running parallel.
We have the challenge to provide ancillary infrastructure -- 24/7 medical clinics and pharmacies at least; 24/7 convenience stores stocked up with the needs of our foreign tourists; a variety of world-class bed and board facilities, from simple bed and breakfast places to five-star hotels, that cater to different tourist types; eating places with good sanitation; water and sewage treatment facilities; good garbage management systems; shopping malls that fit the character, topography and carrying capacities of the ecologies they are in (God forbid a massive mall in Boracay, Guimaras or Panglao!).
And then there is the need for a steady supply of both reasonably priced drinking water and electric power! Many industries have fled the country because of expensive electricity! Investing in large power generators that need reliable diesel supplies increase business costs. Usable water is becoming a problem and we have not seen or heard of plans to ensure this.
We pride ourselves in having some of the best dive spots in the planet. As of today, we have poor infrastructure for immediate responses to fortuitous incidents that require speedy evacuation and needed medical treatment that require decompression. There are only two decompression chambers that I know of and very few emergency helicopters to respond to emergencies.
Then there is the need for world class human assets in the tourism industry. Let’s face it, outside of a few places in the country -- Metro Manila and satellite areas; Metro Cebu and satellite areas; Metro Baguio; and Metro Davao -- and even in these areas the quality is uneven, many of our tourist destinations are operated by and run with people who are not prepared to provide good tourist services nor provide adequate tourist facilities. Many "top" hotels can be described graphically in Tagalog -- "pinagtipiran" or else "binarat!" These arise because of the attitude of, "Puede na yan!"
And then there is the other major challenge -- the right human assets to design, develop, manage and maintain sustainable tourism spots.
Many, maybe even most, of our local officials, from mayors to municipal administrators, planning and development officers have the barest, if any, understanding of what it takes to put up, manage and maintain sustainable and competitive tourism infrastructures. All we need do is examine what have happened to Baguio, Tagaytay and Boracay.
Consider, too, that General Santos may have a beautiful bay fronting it, but its hillsides are bare (with scorching heat at the height of summer) and could use many more trees. Yet, there seems to be no tree planting planned even for the city proper, and much less for the area to make it a more inviting place to visit. Davao City maybe the second largest city in the world with a land area of 244,000 hectares but its development has not been properly planned. In fact, there is hardly any city in the country that can be said to have been properly planned and developed.
And while our brand of hospitality has often been mentioned, so have lack of initiative and knowledge of tourists’ requirements; ignorance of many aspects of the locality like answers to the questions like, "Where else can we go other than what is in the brochures?", "How do we go about renting transport?", "Where can I have my shoe fixed?" and the like. Warm hospitality makes for a good first impression, but we need more than that to give a deeply positive lasting impression, the kind that keeps them coming back.
Perhaps lastly, there is the not-too-often mentioned problem of the lack of land titles and of indigenous peoples’ claims for some of the most attractive tourism spots in the country. I was told by a former student who has built a career as hotelier and hotel project developer that regardless of the promise of good returns in a possible project, it is enough to mention issues of land titling and ancestral domain claims to drive off investment bankers and other big investors. I have seen several "road maps" for Philippine tourism but this problem has not been mentioned.
I think we must have a more thorough tourism master plan that spans the breadth and depth of the sector if we are to make meaningful use of the P29 billion plus the billions the private sector would gladly through into the pot if they see the government make the needed pertinent investments.
Mario Antonio G. Lopez wrote this piece for the column To Take a Stand in BusinessWorld.