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Tourism is a great platform for inclusivity. This was proven in the recent Tourism Summit 2019 which we hosted together with the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN BAC) Philippines, Department of Tourism (DOT), Tourism Promotions Board (TPB), and other business organizations.
The first tourism summit that we organized last week gathered more than 10,000 participants both onsite and online. Through our online streaming, around 40 schools participated together with their own group of delegates.
The summit also gathered tourism experts from different ASEAN countries who shared insights on how we can develop our tourism industry. We were fortunate to have more than 20 ambassadors, representatives of local government units, and Go Negosyo mentors and entrepreneurs.
In my speech, I shared how important it is to boost our tourism through the collaboration of private and public sectors. As our country moves closer to an investment grade rating of triple A, it is not impossible to see that the Philippines will come close to Thailand’s 38 million tourists annually. I know that it is a long shot, but if we work together to create the infrastructure that is needed to propel connectivity, we can hopefully achieve it in the next years.
The Philippines has so much potential, but we have to protect our assets – our islands, culture, and heritage, in order to attract more tourists. Sustainable tourism is the key to growing business models while conserving our island assets.
Tourism Secretary Bernadette Puyat highlighted the need for connectivity. She said the DOT is working closely with the Department of Transportation in developing ports that tourists can use to connect from island to island. “With better airports, seaports, and roads, we do not only bring in local and international tourists to these destinations, but we also provide rural areas with improved transportation, access to goods, employment opportunities and livelihood.
Sec. Puyat also introduced agri-tourism or farm tourism which is a booming trend in the tourism sector. It opens a new perspective in inclusive and sustainable agriculture and rural development.
“Sustainable tourism is at the core of development principle of the Department of Tourism. We welcome all and invite everyone to invest in our economic potential, but we cannot accept progress without the inclusive development of our stakeholders. It is the only way we can truly create quality destinations in the region,” she said.
We had a great discussion during the summit through the forums which featured the 5As of tourism (arrival, access, accommodation, activities, and attractions). Our first forum dealt with the infrastructure requirements to assist arrivals in the country. Together with Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala (Ayala Corp.), Jaime Bautista (Philippine Airlines), Alexander Lao (CebGo), Arin Jira (ASEAN BAC), Usec. Benito Bengzon (DOT), and Gina Lopez (Investments in Loving Organizations for Village Economies), they discussed how airlines, government, and other stakeholders are creating the needed projects for connectivity. Since we are an archipelago, the challenge lies in connecting our islands, so aside from roads and bridges, we rely heavily on air access, thus the need for airport infrastructure to accommodate the tourists.
Jaime Zobel raised the need to “upgrade the whole airport system throughout the country, not just the international airport in Manila.” He said that it is important to make regional airports meet international standards and allow people to fly directly to all parts of the country. This recommendation was supported by the other panelists.
The second forum focused on inter-island connectivity. Together with the panelists – Edgar Saavedra (Megawide), Venus Tan (TPB), Gov. Jose Alvarez (Palawan), Pocholo Paragas (Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority), George Barcelon (Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry), and Dato Mohmed Razip Hasan (Malaysia Tourism Promotions Board), they discussed the need to build a greater network of routes through additional highways, roads and other means of transportation which tourists can use in exploring one island at a time and promoting a more accessible and connected ASEAN region.
Dato Razip said that in order to attract more tourists, we must also look at the products and services in a destination in order to draw in more tourists. This is another perspective in which we can focus on the businesses the destinations can offer. We can highlight the entrepreneurs and their businesses in order to attract more tourists.
Complementation, as Venus Tan said, is key to making ASEAN a major tourist bloc. She said, “I think we should all complement one another and work on the strength of the Philippines rather than look at the competition.” She also stressed the need to create “immersive and experiential destination” which means interacting with people, its culture, and heritage.
Governor Alvarez proudly invited everyone to Palawan as they are building a highway from Manila to Batangas, to Mindoro, then to Coron! This is a great milestone in linking our islands. Imagine, you can drive your car to reach the province of Palawan! This is a great way of linking our islands and making it accessible to all.
This was just the first part of the discussion. There were more valuable conversations throughout the summit that I will like to share in my next column. Our panelists and interveners all had suggestions on policies, infrastructure, and projects in order to attain sustainable island tourism not just in our country, but also in ASEAN.