It may not be the only answer to the problem of unemployment, but it is certainly one of the best. The tourism industry can provide all the opportunities needed to create jobs for the millions of Filipinos who are unemployed and/or underemployed.
We must not ignore one obvious fact: the Philippines is a great place to visit, especially for tourists whose climates are far different from ours. We Filipinos may complain about this blisteringly hot summer we are undergoing, but business and pleasure travelers from cold countries love it.
Indeed, every province in every region has something to offer foreign and local tourists. Name it and we have it. From the plushest resorts for those with money to burn, to facilities for the rugged backpacker on a tight budget, and everything in between. And while we may not yet be a Macau or a Las Vegas, there is a growing number of gaming spots that are proving to be irresistible for those looking for a different kind of action.
As a people, we also take great pride in our hospitality. We welcome guests to our homes, no matter how humble our station in life. They may first enter our houses as guests, but they almost always exit as friends.
With so much going for our country, why then are we still so far behind our neighbors when it comes to tourist arrivals? Why do places like Hong Kong, Bali, Singapore and the like bring in visitors by the tens of millions every year, while the Philippines only expects to receive some 5.5 million this year?
Surely the tourists’ dollars go farther here than in the abovementioned tourist favorites?
The answer is in the country’s infrastructure, or lack of it. With the growing number of inbound tourists entering the country year after year, the lack of infrastructure – roads, bridges, airports, seaports, public restrooms, etc. – becomes more and more apparent.
Even the private sector has not been building the hotels and resorts to answer the growing gap.
A case in point is Puerto Princesa, Palawan, which has become the country’s newest tourist darling after its Subterranean River National Park (AKA Underground River) was named one of the new Wonders of Nature. The sudden influx of tourists all wanting to take the tour of the spot means a large number of them go home disappointed because they could not be accommodated.
On the other end is Boracay, home to one of the best beaches in the world. The small island has become a victim of its own success, and now has too many resorts and hotels of all sizes. These put a strain on the power and water supply, as well as creating peace and order problems for the local government unit tasked with keeping this slice of paradise safe and wholesome.
The national government, specifically the Department of Tourism, must fine tune its national tourism plan into a real a master plan so that the target of the Aquino administration to welcome 10 million inbound tourists by the time the President steps down in 2016 is realized.
Build more, employ more
The national government can play a huge role in fast-tracking the growth of the tourism industry, at the same time easing the unemployment and underemployment problem by increasing its public spending.
A comprehensive Tourism Act guides the government. It should be implemented and fast tracked. While no one is saying that farm-to-market secondary and tertiary roads should not be given top priority, there is a great need to improve the infrastructure most used by foreign tourists.
The strategy is as old as time. To ease massive unemployment, the fastest way is to come up with big ticket public works projects. This way, thousands of jobs are instantly created, followed by tens of thousands of downstream employment created by the big projects.
If such projects were tied up with the tourism master plan, then it is not inconceivable for the Philippines to welcome the same volume of tourists as the country’s nearby neighbors which bring them in by the tens of millions.
Marketing the Philippines is not that hard. The catch phrase “It’s more fun in the Philippines” may not be the brainchild of a marketing guru, but it could still catch on and bring in the big numbers if the country lives up to it.
Make the Philippines more fun by erasing the hundred and one little irritants that leave a permanent impression to first time visitors. Remove the mulcters and overcharging taxi drivers at the airports. Target the thieves and robbers who prey on visitors. But most of all, provide the infrastructure that makes a visit to the Philippines an experience they will never forget.