• Higher tourism spending urged

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    LEGAZPI, Albay: The government must invest at least P45 billion a year in the Philippine tourism industry for the next 10 years to be able to spur and harness its full potential, Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said.

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    “Right now it’s [the government]just investing P12 billion a year in tourism. So I think it’s a far, far cry to what we can do. So definitely, the next thing really is to allow DPWH (Department of Public Works and Highways) to invest in public works, not just roads but also in facilities,” the governor said.

    “Now, the agency has upgraded its ability to do things. Before it was only roads but now it has included streetlights, water, and even facilities. This government, at least in terms of its fiscal capacity, can easily invest about P45 billion [a year],” he explained.

    “This investment can help in terms of expanding the capacity of new destinations to absorb incremental tourists in the Philippines. We can easily invest P45 billion a year incrementally for the development of tourist facilities,” he said.

    Albay Province is currently hosting an international forum of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). New Tourism Frontiers Forum 2015 brings together top tourism professionals to discuss emerging issues related to adventure travel and responsible tourism.

    According to Salceda, “ALMASOR invested P6.6 billion since 2011 but  we actually started in 2012, so virtually a billion a year. And we built 320 kilometers of well-paved roads, linking destinations, and linking provinces. I think we can invest so much more.”

    ALMASOR (Albay, Masbate, Sorsogon) is a tourism alliance spearheaded by Salceda, who is a champion of eco-tourism.

    “If you ask DPWH, they have nowhere to put their money. They already built all the national roads. That is why I think they are thinking of arterial roads, secondary roads. And these are the roads that essentially link to those discovered and still to be discovered places.”

    He said ALMASOR’s cutting edge is that they started a Tourism Development Area, and that other than local investors, many foreign investors are also keen to invest in the provinces, especially in the hospitality sector.

    “There are three international hotel brands aiming to put up here but locals they’re building up already. But we need at least 5,000 rooms but currently we have only 2,000 rooms.

    Of course, that is part of our ten year tourism program by 2025,” Salceda said.

    “Here in the center, in Legazpi City, we need more rooms. Like I said, our development plan calls for 5,000 rooms but of convention quality. We need to put up a new hotel because we need to absorb the MICE [Meetings, Incentives, Convention, and Exhibition] market,” he said.

    In Albay, Salceda said the hospitality industry is seeing not a supply-driven growth but actually a demand-driven growth.

    “While that’s a better growth, at least the tourists came. But the bigger problem is if you build and nobody came, that’s a bigger problem. There’s a mighty change in the world of our local businessmen. They’re putting up a lot of facilities that will absorb…that will increase our carrying capacity. But from an ecological perspective, we’re very conscious about our carbon footprint,” he said.

    “Preferably, we want resorts because it is destination, accommodation and promotion in one. Definitely first time we are articulating on ambition. Now we have only a 1,000-room convention quality. In Misibis Bay we have 200 [rooms]. But we can do a five-fold increase because it’s well below our normalized market share of tourists,” he added.

    Salceda is looking forward to the opening of the Bicol International Airport in 2018, which was supposed to open last year in time for the country’s hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) this year, to further boost foreign arrivals.

    “It’s almost finished, it just needs a runway. Cost around P960 million and waiting for awarding of the P1.7 billion new terminal. The delay of opening is lost opportunity for us to get investors during the APEC hosting,” he said.

    “Remember, 82 percent of the 1,300 businessmen were new; first timers in the Philippines. That’s the impact of APEC. It blew the chances. In my mind that was the biggest story about APEC. And of course the second one is if you look at . . . [the]background when Vietnam hosted APEC, after APEC it went on to double their net foreign direct investments. Actually in three years [FDI] shot up to $12 billion.

    When the international airport is finished, Salceda said they are targeting direct flights to Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong and even Narita. But by February, Cebu Pacific will have direct flights to Incheon from Legazpi airport, he said.

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