The column last Tuesday of my friend and colleague, Mr. Tony Lopez, entitled “Cambodia will overtake PH tourism in 2 years” (MT, 05 August 2013) is a real eye-opener. It showed that our tourism or hospitality industry is not doing that great, as President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd made it appear in his 2013 State of the Nation Address (SONA) on 22 July. Worse, as many things in his SONA, the roseate picture given by the President is very misleading and it appears to deceive both the listeners and readers.
President B.S. Aquino 3rd declared that “. . . we registered 4.3 million tourist arrivals in our country—another new record high. This figure is a 21.4-percent increase from when we assumed office in 2010, when only an estimated 3.1 million tourists visited our country.” Yet if we compare the figures on arrivals of visitors with the other countries in the region, Cambodia’s tourism has actually grown at a faster rate than the Philippines in the past three years (2010-2012).
The 21.4-percent increase in tourism arrivals cited by the President in his SONA from 2010 to 2012 is truly misleading. Who would ever think that another country ravaged by civil war in the ‘70s with the infamous “Killing Fields” by the Khmer Rouge and whose government only started functioning in 1991 is doing better? As Mr. Tony Lopez revealed in his column, “in the past three years, the Cambodian tourist arrivals have risen by an average of 18.4 percent per year compared to the Philippines’12.36 percent per year.”
Hence, given these growth rates in tourism arrivals, Cambodia will overtake the Philippines in the number of visitors in a short period of three years by 2015! This will be very embarrassing by the time that the term of office of PNoy ends on June 30, 2016.
The comparison with Cambodia is very interesting because in 2010 the Philippines had 3.52 million tourist arrivals or one million more visitors than Cambodia’s 2.5 million. In two years’ time in 2012, the edge was narrowed down to just half a million (500,000) visitors. By 2014, Cambodia will inevitably have overtaken our country with the current increases in arrivals for both countries.
However, what would be most embarrassing for the Aquino administration is if Cambodia will have one million more foreign visitors than the Philippines by 2016.
This will be a complete reversal of the tourism situation from 2010 when Noynoy Aquino became president. What a legacy that President B.S. Aquino 3rd will leave behind!
What will happen with Cambodia had already happened before with Vietnam. The Philippines today has become the laggard of the original five member-countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), or the Asean 5 not just with tourism, but also in terms of per capita income (gross domestic product/population).
Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia have left the Philippines behind. Now, Vietnam, a new member of the 10-member Asean has already overtaken us since five years ago (2008).
When President B.S. Aquino 3rd assumed office in 2010, the gap in tourism arrivals between Vietnam and the Philippines was only 1.5 million visitors. Vietnam had 5.05 million tourists vis-à-vis the Philippines 3.52 million. However, after two years in 2012, there were 2.675 million more tourists in Vietnam. We have the much-vaunted 4.273 million tourists, while Vietnam had 6.848 million visitors. Thus, the gap has been growing from 30 percent in 2010, 35 percent in 2011 and finally 38 percent in 2012. This year, easily at least 40 percent.
Given the official tourism statistics on Cambodia and Vietnam vis-à-vis the Philippines, it clearly shows that the Aquino administration is not really doing that great as it purports itself to be doing. In fact, the tourism arrivals of 4.273 million in our country was already achieved in Vietnam in 2008—or five years ago—at 4.254 million visitors. And Vietnam started late with its hospitality industry only two decades ago in the early 1990s and they do not have much of balikbayans (returning Filipinos) as we do that is estimated to constitute one-half, or 50 percent of our tourism arrivals.
However, the Department of Tourism (DoT) is not to be entirely blamed for the dismal performance of our hospitality industry. Tourism is very much dependent on public infrastructure support to move our foreign guests around the country. As it is already common knowledge by now, the Department of Transportation and Communications (DoTC) deserves to be pilloried in the press. It has virtually done nothing to improve our airports, seaports and mass transport system (LRTs and MRT) in the past three years under the Aquino administration.
It is simply amazing that the president did not lambast DoTC in his SONA as he did with the Bureau of Customs (BoC). Just imagine the DoTC not having been able to bid out and award of any public-private partnership (PPP) projects in the past three years that is crucial to our economy, including our tourism industry. It now appears that PNoy will not hit his political allies in the Liberal Party (LP) from former DoTC secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas 3rd (LP president)) to the incumbent DoTC Secretary Joseph “Jun” Abaya (LP secretary-general). DILG Secretary Mar Roxas is known to still be running DoTC through Jun Abaya, who is acting like a deputy secretary.
(To be continued)
Rick B. Ramos at email@example.com