Tourism act: Preparing for the upturn

Published by rudy Date posted on April 27, 2009

In anticipation of an easing of the global financial crisis, the country’s tourism industry is hoping to be ready to play a major role as the economy of various countries starts to pick up from hibernation and tourists begin to spend for travel and vacation.

One big push in this direction would be the approval of the Tourism Act of 2009 by President Arroyo now that it has been passed by Congress.

Tourism industry players and authors of the law, Sen. Richard Gordon and Bohol Rep. Edgar Chatto believe that the Tourism Act of 2009, as approved, will lay the foundation for a national policy on tourism which is poised to be a key tool for national development by attracting more investments and opening up new jobs opportunities.

Gordon for one has been very vocal since his days as Tourism chief up to the present in stressing that a well-oiled tourism industry opens up job and other economic opportunities to Filipinos and that there is an urgent need to inculcate the culture of tourism in more people.

Once President Arroyo signs the Tourism Act of 2009, the enabling law aimed at luring more investors and beefing up our capabilities may or must jumpstart the tourism industry and make it a stronger engine of economic growth.

Not a cure all

As expected there are still those who have misgivings about the Tourism Act, with others still going as far as questioning the wisdom and morality of promoting tourism in the country altogether.

The Tourism Act of 2009 is not a cure-all pill for the growing but underachieving tourism industry. One of the key things it will address is the need for more investors in the industry that will put up facilities and infrastructure that meet international standards. It should also ensure a streamlined, less bureaucratic and harmonious operation of tourism agencies and offices in the public and private sectors.

On paper, this soon-to-be law looks promising and timely and must be supported.

Everyone must, however be vigilant as the law may also be used for the selfish interests of a few powerful individuals and defeat, rather than promote the mission of maximizing the full potential of tourism.

Incentives for investors

One factor affecting tourism here is the lack of infrastructure development including hotels, lodging houses and other tourist attractions in tourist frequented areas, which the Tourism Act of 2009 is addressing by offering full support and incentives to investors.

The Act will create the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, which will have supervisory powers and oversee operations in tourism enterprise zones and at the same time provide incentives to locators.

The expected rise in the number of hotels and other tourism facilities will usher in better and more competitive services and will also address the chronic shortage of hotel rooms and accommodation facilities especially in more remote but attractive locations.

The Tourism department, after successfully cracking the lucrative China market, has since penetrated other erstwhile untapped markets such as Russia, India, Scandinavian countries and the Middle East.

If we invite more people to vacation here, we must be prepared for their arrival with adequate and world class infrastructure.

All players happy

When the Tourism Act of 2009 was first introduced in the halls of Congress, major industry players raised a howl over several provisions which they believed threatened the operations of small, independent tour operators and put the country at a disadvantage.

The proposed $5 tourism fee provision of the Act was fortunately scrapped in the final and approved version.

The independent travel agencies’ back then challenged the $5 surcharge stressing that the added cost would make traveling to the Philippines costlier, and the fact that many tourists arrive here on group and pre-paid or package tours.

The added surcharge, tour operators felt, may not serve its purpose of promoting Philippine tourism since it may price itself out of the market.

Small and independent tour operators also welcomed an amendment in the Act which will now allow all tourism stakeholders to be represented in and consulted by tourism bodies and agencies and not merely those from the bigger ‘elite’ organizations.

Caveats in pushing tourism development

Some activists and militants are, however, warning of massive displacement of farmers, fishermen and conversion of agricultural lands and fishing grounds in the guise of tourism development.

They point out that the Act may be used by unscrupulous but powerful individuals and clans to grab prime and prized land including coastlines occupied by farmers and fishing communities by having it declared a tourism economic zone.

In a report by IBON Foundation, it cited a case in Batangas where hundreds of families are in danger of being displaced or their source of livelihood taken away when Malacañang issued Executive Order 647.

The E.O. basically converted agricultural lands and fishing grounds totaling over 14,000 hectares for tourism purposes and authorizing an “eminent” group to “oversee the sustainable development of Nasugbu tourism in behalf of the President of the Philippines and the Secretary of Tourism.”

Another point raised is that the tourism industry employs only 10 percent of the workforce and contributes only seven percent of national GDP, compared to the agriculture sector’s higher employment rate and its 18-percent contribution to GDP. And yet, generous incentives are not being extended to investments in the agriculture sector

What is crucial in the implementation of the Tourism Act of 2009 is for tourism stakeholders and the public to maintain a vigilant eye to ensure that benefits from the Act are realized and that vested interest groups do not manipulate the law for their own selfish motives. We have so many laws that do not benefit the intended parties because of politics and corruption.–Rey Gamboa, Philippine Star

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Corporate Center, Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reydgamboa@yahoo.com. For a compilation of previous articles, visit www.BizlinksPhilippines.net.

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