• The window to our soul

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    TOURISM and investment are crucial components of any country’s economic development plans. The development of the tourism sector can spark investment opportunities that could, in turn, provide jobs and income-generating activities.

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    In developing the tourism sector and attracting investors, the country must see to it that it has an airport that is clean and where services are efficient.

    Once a foreign visitor steps out of the plane, the airport is the first place he would step on. The condition of the airport and the manner with which visitors are welcomed will definitely have a lasting impression on the visitor.

    First impressions count. Airports are a vital part of a nation’s infrastructure, as well as a visitor’s first impression of the host country.

    There is an old saying attributed to William Shakespeare that “the eyes are the window to your soul.”

    Perhaps, to a foreign visitor, the airport is the gateway to a country’s soul. It is where a country can show its identity.

    The airport does not have to be opulent or huge. It simply has to be clean, manned by courteous staff and efficient, where toilets are not smelly and have tissue rolls and faucets with running water.

    In 2014, the ranking of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) among the world’s worst airports moved up to 4th from the top for the three years prior. But with the ongoing renovation, it must have slid back to 1st place.

    In my last trip abroad a few weeks ago, I had severe allergic rhinitis attacks after spending two hours at Terminal 1 that did not seem to have a working air-conditioning. Although the areas under construction were covered, it was very dusty. When I went to the toilet, there was no water, the flush was not working, and there was no tissue in the cubicle. How horrible!

    Coming back home was even worse because of the snaking queue at the immigration counter and the wait at the baggage carousel.

    I wondered what a first-time visitor to the country would think about Manila after going through such an unpleasant experience, especially if the visitor came from a developed country with impressive airports.

    In another trip recently, I left and came through Terminal 3, which was in a much better condition than Terminal 1. But it is still not something that can pass for being acceptable. The lines to the check-in counters were quite long even if the passenger had checked-in online and had printed boarding ticket.

    There were no express lines for those already checked-in online. Well, at least the air-conditioning was working and the toilets were cleaner and with tissue paper.

    Apart from improving infrastructures, airport authorities have to review airport procedures to give foreigners a smoother entry into the country so they could at least have positive first impression.

    With this poor condition of our airports, the proposal of former defense secretary Gilbert Teodoro for more spending on the country’s airports sounds logical and timely if the government is serious in its program to boost tourism and attract more investors to do business in the country.

    In a rare public appearance on January 30 at the Security Bank Economic Forum, Teodoro noted that of the P562.3 billion allotted by the government to infrastructure in the 2015 budget, only P13.2 billion is for air transport.

    “To me, if you’re going to give the message of increased tourist arrivals, increased efficiency in transport, that number has to go a little higher,” Teodoro said in his speech.

    The country’s inadequate infrastructure is, indeed, one of the problematic factors in doing business in the Philippines.

    Teodoro also stressed, aside from airports, the need for government to spend more on developing its sea ports as well as roads leading to the ports.

    The port congestion in Manila has worsened the flow of the already heavy traffic in the metropolitan area because of the lack of road networks linking the ports without the need to traverse through the main public thoroughfares.

    In my recent trip to China and its coastal cities in Guangdong, I have seen the impressive and enviable port facilities and integrated road networks that are crucial to the country’s business and trading activities.

    The port and shipbuilding facilities in Guangzhou were so huge and clean, unlike in Manila where you could see the grease on the road and smell an unidentifiable stink even if you are more than a hundred meters away from the port.

    When I get out of the office in Intramuros and set foot on the greasy road and smell the stinking port, I could only shake my head and feel sorry that we have politicians who would rather spend public money on billboards, signages and markers with their names and photos on it, as if they were spending from their own pockets.

    I am not losing hope, though, that the time will come when voters will choose performance over popularity or name recall when they cast their ballots come election day.

    Is there such as thing as a vote from the heart for candidates who have the heart and soul for public service?

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