THE story on the hundred Russians flown in by Philippine Airlines (PAL) on its maiden voyage from Vladivostok to the country made it to several dailies the other day.
According to PAL this is only the first of the chartered flights that it will regularly make between Vladivostok and the Philippines, based on an agreement reached with Primorsky Agency of Aviation, one of the biggest tour companies in the Russian Far East.
We join the country’s flag carrier—and the Department of Tourism (DOT)—for this achievement. However, we must hasten to add that this is hardly a coup. A similar deal has been inked by Thailand, Singapore, and South Korea with Russia, also through this firm.
The fact only shows that our neighbors are not sleeping on the job the way we were decades back when we started to lose out in the competition to attract tourists.
We do not wish to denigrate the efforts made by PAL and DOT, but a hundred tourists brought in by a chartered flight held twice a week hardly makes a difference in the country’s tourism industry, although of course every visitor counts.
The Philippines breached the four million mark in tourist arrivals last year, but it is still lagging behind—far behind—in the world tourism industry.
Thailand had 22 million visitors that year, a 16 percent increase over the record of the previous year.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand attributes the continuing vigor of the industry to the fact that “the world was generally at peace and there were no major geopolitical, economic environmental or natural disasters and no health pandemics.”
It is a world at peace, but why can’t we profit from it the way Thailand does?
There is peace in the world, but the Philippines is in constant turmoil. Just recently, Nur Misuari and his band laid siege on Zamboanga City, and the news was flashed all over the world. Also, not a month passes without the media headlining another kidnapping in Mindanao, and many of the victims are foreigners.
Somebody at DOT proposed to promote tourism in Bohol and Cebu using the ruins left behind by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake as attraction.
The earthquake did put the Visayas on the map. However, we think the suggestion is a bad idea. Tourists want to have a good time. They don’t want to be reminded of death and destruction.
It’s true tourists flock to the ruins of Pompeii. The casts of men, women, and children preserved by the ashes and molten rocks after Mt. Vesuvius erupted in AD 75 and unearthed by archeologists in our time are a powerful tourist draw. Even the bell tower, the only part of Cagsawa Church left visible by Mayon Volcano after it blew its top in the 18th century, also has its charms.
The Mt. Vesuvius and Mayon eruptions are so far off in time that the death and destruction they wrought don’t bother visitors.
Not the Bohol-Cebu tragedy. The ruins will turn tourists off, both foreign and domestic. They’re just too recent and too real for comfort.
If we are to compete successfully in the world tourism business we must ensure that we have the infrastructure to make the stay of visitors a pleasant experience.
The country is blessed with beautiful beaches and mountain resorts and the fact has been featured by tour and travel magazines all over the world. However, we will continue to get bypassed unless we have the necessary hotels and restaurants and of course the regional airports and the roads that facilitate ease of travel.
Tourism generated more than $38 billion in revenue for Thailand last year. If we can attain half of that amount, we’ll be able to reduce the high unemployment rate drastically and set our country on the road to prosperity.
Is that too much to ask?