Cambodia and Burma will leave PH behind soon?

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Part Two

My article last week showed a different perspective in the outlook of our tourism industry. While there was a significant increase of 800,000 or 21% in the number of visitors to our country from 2010 to 2012, what we are— sadly—not told is how other countries in the Asean (Association of Southeast Nations) are doing far better. In his State of the Nation Address (Sona), President Benigno S. Aquino 3rd gave a misleading impression on how great our country is doing in tourism under his administration.

Vietnam left the Philippines far behind in tourism 10 years ago and Cambodia will overtake us in visitors’ arrivals two years from now on the 5th year of the Aquino presidency. Compared to the Philippines’ 4.3 million tourist arrivals in 2012, Thailand has 22 million, while Malaysia has 25 million. Our tourism arrivals is but a fraction of Thailand and Malaysia at one-fourth (1/4) and one one-fifth (1/5), respectively. In fact, the “impressive” number of tourists who visited our country last year is just the same number of foreign guests who went to the resort-city of Pattaya in Thailand.

Who will ever think that Malaysia today will have 20 million more tourists when we were ahead in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. In 1997 or 15 years ago, their visitors’ arrivals already reached the same four million mark that we have in 2012. Likewise, Vietnam, a late-comer in the hospitality industry, now has 2.6 million More tourists than us. Soon, Cambodia will have more foreign visitors by 2015 with a single tourist attraction of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap and they have no balikbayans like us to speak of!

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All of the above made me realize that President Aquino could have given a better speech in his Sonad he cited the challenges facing our hospitality industry and gave the direction to which it is heading. After proudly announcing the accomplishment in the increase in arrivals from 3.5 million in 2010 to 4.3 million in 2012, he could have put things in proper perspective and rally the Filipino people for support.

The Chief Executive could have mentioned on how Vietnam had left us behind as early as 2002 with 700,000 more arrivals. Then the gap went up to one million in 2007 and 1.5 million in 2010. There was no problem to mention them since they happened before his term. Then PNoy can admit that the situation has not really improved with a larger difference of 2.6 million in visitors’ arrivals in 2012 compared to only 1.5 million in 2010.

President Aquino could have said that our tourism arrivals should be benchmarked with Vietnam since it has been consistently leaving us behind in the past three years. Between 2010 and 2012, there has been is an increase of 70% in the disparity in tourism arrivals. The goal should be to whittle down the growing gap, say back to 1.5 million in 2010. If Vietnam will have 11 mllion tourists in 2016, the Philippines should have at least 9.5 million visitors and the Aquino administration should do what it will take to achieve it.

Going back to Cambodia, the president could have also emphasized the “threat” of Cambodia, a failed state until 1991, overtaking our country in tourism in two years’ time. The Chief Executive can declare that he does not want to leave a legacy wherein Cambodia will have more tourists when his term ends in 2016 – that not even several hundred thousand more tourists by then will not be acceptable to him.

Still on Cambodia, it has developed its textile industry like what Thailand did decades ago. Today, Filipinos in the garments business have started to import their textiles from Cambodia. Hard to believe that a country that suffered the atrocity of genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge in the mid to late 1970s, as shown in the movie Killing Fields, is now ahead of the Philippines in the textile industry. Well, they do not have the kind of smuggling that we do that is even worse now under the Aquino administration.

Burma Ahead of PH by 2020?
There was an interesting news that Burma may attract $100 billion in foreign direct investments (FDIs) by 2030. Bloomberg reported last 31 May 2013 that Myanmar (Burma) may get as much as $100 billion in FDIs over the “next two decades if it spends enough to achieve its economic growth potential,” as per report of the McKinsey Global Institute. This is a scenario that the Philippines can only dream of happening in our country even at one-half or $50 billion
At the rate of $5 billion per year, Burma can overtake the Philippines in seven years by the Year 2020 when their total FDIs would have reached at least $30 billion. By then, the FDIs in our country perhaps would be only be around $10 billion, given the current restrictions in foreign investments in our flawed Constitution. Why? Because the foreign investments will be flowing to other destinations like Cambodia and Myanmar—instead of the Philippines—as it happened more than 10 years ago in Vietnam and Indonesia, and more than 20 years ago in Malaysia and Thailand.

Ford Philippines had earlier announced that it is closing shop in the Philippines this year 2013. It may be a coincidence, but Myanmar has attracted Ford Motor Co. as well as the Coca-Cola Company, as per Bloomberg report. It seems to be the same story as what happened to Intel after leaving the Philippines and moving to Vietnam several years later. The foreign direct investments in Myanmar may surpass the Philippines this year. What is for certain is that like Cambodia with their tourism arrivals, there will be more FDIs in Myanmar in two years time by 2015.

Rick B. Ramos at rbrpilipinas@gmail.com

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