Last June 4, 2017, an opinion column written by Katrina Stuart Santiago entitled, “A portrait of a Tourism Secretary as failure,” was published in your paper.
While the Department of Tourism, as well as Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo, understands the concerns raised by the writer comes with the territory, we take exception to the points raised by Ms. Santiago and now respond to them in detail to give it a more balanced perspective.
Our intention in doing so is to state the fact and nothing less.
Firstly, Ms. Santiago stated that the DOT “has no vision, no game plan, no clear sense of what tourism is.” Such assertion stems perhaps from lack of information.
We are pleased to inform everyone that the National Tourism Development Plan (NDTP) 2016-2022 – completed during Sec. Teo’s leadership – was approved by President Rodrigo Duterte at a cabinet meeting last 3 April 2017, and this will soon be cascaded to all our stake holders. Prior to the President’s approval, the NDTP was extensively consulted and deliberated with other agencies of government and the tourism industry’s stakeholders.
The NDTP lays down twelve (12) strategic action programs, which include infrastructure development, where the government will be pouring P677 billion in the next 6 years; travel facilitation initiatives; promotion of private sector investments and development of tourism enterprise zones; implementation of an expanded marketing program that builds on the “It’s more fun in the Philippines” campaign and focuses and identified new markets and new product offerings, with emphasis on the MICE and cruise sectors; enhancement of our human resources and standards; MSME development; expansion of cultural and eco-tourism offerings; environmental protection and promotion of climate change and adaptation technologies and practices; and implementation of risk and crisis management programs. We will be pleased to provide you a copy of the NDTP for this purpose.
Secondly, with respect to the matter regarding the qualifications of our Secretary, while she has maintained a quiet, firm and positive attitude to it, this issue questions not just the wisdom of the President but also the Commission on Appointment, which confirmed her last year.
Sadly, the stinging description of Ms. Santiago of Secretary Teo belittles the hard work and dedication she has displayed in the industry she loves. The former travel agent whom Ms. Santiago arrogantly described once served as president of the Davao Association of Tour Operations (DATO); President of the Davao Travel Agencies Association (DTAA); Vice President of Davao Regional Tourism Council (DRTC) and at the national level, of the National Association of Independent Travel Agencies or NAITAS, the largest travel agency organization in the country. Further, when the first Tourism Congress of the Philippines was convened, she was elected secretary. All these indicate the trust and confidence that Secretary Teo’s peers in the tourism industry reposed in her.
Experience grounded on principles and learning has given the Secretary a more holistic perspective on the things that the DOT needs to do to create an enabling environment for tourism.
In less than a year, the DOT, under Sec. Teo and in partnership with other agencies, was able to accomplish a lot. In the 1st quarter of 2017, we saw an 11.40% jump in visitor arrivals to 1.78 million from 1.60 million in the same period last year. Also this year, around 160,000 airline seats have been added with new direct flights connecting secondary airports in China and South Korea, namely; Kalibo to Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Chengdu, Cebu to Wuhan, Chongqing, Chengdu, and Clark to Incheon. In addition, we were able to ink deals with China, Cambodia, Thailand, Turkey, and Russia in order to boost arrivals from these countries.
Thirdly, the writer said that the DOT is focused only in doing pageantry and nothing else. While we do take pride in the successful conduct of the recent pageant which prompted the Ms. Universe Organization to offer us the privilege to host it again this November, we are continuously undertaking other activities lined up for this year as part of our efforts to establish the country as a premier MICE destination. Recently, we held the Madrid Fusion Manila and World Street Food Congress to promote Filipino cuisine to the world. Also, we will be hosting the UN World Tourism Organization Conference this month with other Ministers of Tourism and of course, the ASEAN 50th Anniversary whole year round.
Fourthly, Ms. Santiago implied on the Secretary’s lack of understanding on tourism development to the environment, highlighting the case of Coral Park in Coron, Palawan.
Let us be clear that while the DOT will always be welcoming of investments, we are not for haphazard or inappropriate ones that will compromise our environment and endanger the lives of our fellow Filipinos.
Finally, on the matter of preserving our cultural heritage, we are pleased to inform you that our Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) and the Intramuros Administration are in that direction already as well. TIEZA has in fact executed an agreement with the National Commission on Culture and the Arts that calls for the rehabilitation of the 5 baroque churches in the Philippines and the Rice Terraces. On the other hand, our Intramuros Administration is now leading the preparation of Conservation Management Plan with the various stakeholders as well, based on UNESCO’s Urban Heritage framework.
While we do recognize that there is so much that needs to be done in order for us to fully transform our tourism industry into a vehicle for inclusive growth, rest assured that the DOT family remains committed to do our best to attain this goal. We call on everyone to continue working with us – voice out any concern or suggestion – because after all, tourism is the business of every Filipino.
FREDERICK M. ALEGRE
Office of Public Affairs, Communications and Special Projects