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Last week I had a very interesting chat with Kyle Jennermann, aka Kulas, of the widely popular YouTube channel “Becoming Filipino.” Now I have had celebrities and VIPs from business and government over at my home, but I was quite pleasantly surprised at how the household staff were star-struck with this Visayan-speaking Canadian native.
Apparently, his vlogs have resonated with a wide demographic: young and old, Pinoys, balikbayans, foreigners, digital natives and newbies. He has over a million followers on his YouTube channel, where he documents his life here in the Philippines as he goes about traveling the country and experiencing what it’s like to be Filipino. He has probably visited more places in the Philippines than the average Pinoy, and in his vlogs he showcases the beauty of the country and its people.
Proof that he’s truly imbibed the culture is that he speaks in broken Tagalog (he can understand you perfectly, though) but is quite fluent in Bisaya. Since settling here in the Philippines ten years ago, Kulas has indeed assimilated quite well. And clearly, many Pinoys have taken to him, too, judging by the popularity of his YouTube channel.
I met with Kulas in connection with our upcoming Tourism Summit 2023 this May 6. We have invited him, along with decision-makers from government and business, local and international tourism entrepreneurs and travel influencers, to come join us at the SM Seaside City in Cebu for a day dedicated to discussing the future of Philippine tourism.
One highlight of the Tourism Summit is the awarding of the very first Inspiring Tourism Entrepreneurs Award. Through the award, we aim to recognize outstanding entrepreneurs in the tourism industry for their role in fostering a more integrated and sustainable tourism industry in the country, and for their significant contribution to developing the Philippine tourism landscape.
By acknowledging these inspiring entrepreneurs, we hope to encourage more Filipinos to pursue entrepreneurship and promote the country’s tourism sector. Fifteen entrepreneurs will be selected under several categories. And in recognition of the power of social media, we will be giving special awards to 10 travel vloggers and influencers. This is a particularly exciting award as it touches on our push for our MSMEs to use social media to push their businesses and become influencers.
Tourism has been a crucial driver of Philippine economic growth and job creation for decades, providing a significant contribution to the country’s GDP. However, what is often overlooked is the crucial role played by MSMEs in this sector and, conversely, how much tourism affects MSMEs. For independent travelers, the micro and small entrepreneurs are the touchpoint to local culture. They are the ones who sell the locally sourced fruits, cook local dishes and serve as guides to less-traveled paths.
Tourism touches a wide range of MSMEs, from logistics to accommodations, food and beverage to recreation and entertainment, and travel services. Moreover, the multiplier effect of tourism is undeniable, as it creates ripple effects across the economy, not the least of which is jobs. By helping our MSMEs in the tourism industry, we can create more job opportunities, increase income for local communities and encourage entrepreneurship, which is vital for the country’s economic growth.
Before the pandemic hit, tourism was one of the biggest employers in the country, accounting for nearly six million workers, mostly in the transport and the accommodations/food sector. The ADB estimates that before the pandemic, tourism supported 195 million jobs directly, and more than 330 million in total, most of them MSMEs. The decline during the pandemic is estimated to be as big as 70 percent, each year from 2020 to 2021.
Because its reach is so broad across industries such as retail, transportation, food and services, accurately measuring the impact of tourism on the revenues of each specific sector is challenging. However, the ripple effects of a tourism slowdown are often felt strongly among small and micro-entrepreneurs, highlighting the industry’s crucial role in supporting local economies. Add to this the seasonal nature of the business for these MSMEs, and you can only imagine how devastating the lockdowns and travel restrictions were for the souvenir vendors and the carinderias and, further up the line, the farmers and fishermen, handicrafts makers, tricycle drivers and numerous other micro entrepreneurs.
Recovery will depend on how well we can support the MSMEs, with policies and programs centered on people and sustainability, which means upskilling our MSMEs in the tourism sector and helping them upgrade their products. One crucial point will be how well we will help them use digital technology. Already, we are seeing the power of social media in stirring general interest in travel. We hope to encourage more MSMEs in the tourism sector to maximize this tool as we start getting back on track. We must help them become like “Kulas,” not only in the savvy for engaging visitors, but also in the ability to look at our country through fresh eyes to see just how much we have to offer.
Early this year when I met with Sec. Christina Frasco of the Department of Tourism, I pledged my support to help the country’s tourism efforts. With hope, we can help our MSMEs in the tourism industry become ready to receive visitors as tourism continues to pick up, able to provide the goods and services with our trademark Filipino hospitality and solidify their place as a significant contributor to the growth of Philippine tourism.