Some pretty desperate private sector leaders of the tourism industry sought me out last Friday for help in getting a message to President-to-be Noynoy that they need him badly to make things right for tourism. They were shocked by some of the names being mentioned as potential new tourism secretaries. They told me they have suffered enough over the past years and are hoping a new administration would get the industry really and honestly back in business.
They wanted me to tell President-to-be Noynoy that tourism is an important job-creating industry and it must be treated seriously. Whoever he chooses to be tourism secretary must have what it takes to work fast and effectively to harness the potential of this industry. They told me that tourism can easily create a million jobs and even with current infrastructure should be able to bring in a million more tourists spending from $200 to $400 a day each.
But they are realistic enough to admit that fixing what’s wrong with Philippine tourism today will take time. Ate Glue made sure her people were glued to tenured positions for almost the duration of the new administration’s term. That could only mean they should not expect to enjoy the benefits of the new tourism incentives law that Dick Gordon championed any time soon.
The current dispensation rushed the enactment of the implementing rules and regulations of the new Tourism Policy Act of 2009 (RA 0593) without consulting the private sector as required by the new law. Worse, Ate Glue appointed Mark Lapid to head the new Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) for a six-year term.
Ate Glue also made sure her physical fitness instructress and classmate, Cynthia Carreon, was glued to a six-year term as head of the marketing arm of the Tourism Promotions Board. And Michael Kho, for the last nine years head of Duty Free Philippines, was re-appointed, this time for another six years, to the same newly re-organized corporation.
Mark Lapid had been head of the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA) which was abolished under the new law and its functions covered by TIEZA. Lapid has not been known to have done anything significant while head of that well funded tourism body. No one expects him to do anything in his newly minted position as well, other than collect his salary and dispense favors.
As for Ms. Carreon, the private sector tourism professionals think someone with international tourism marketing experience should head the tourism promotions body. We are up against professionally managed tourism promotions bodies not only in the region but in the world.
Anyone who watches international news channels regularly are familiar with the tourism promotion campaigns of Incredible India, Malaysia and Thailand. Indonesia is also getting aggressive lately. We need to address the embarrassing lead of our Asean neighbors in tourism arrivals. Tourist arrivals are in the range of 10 to 14 million for Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Indonesia and Vietnam are above seven million. Ours is just three million at best, and most of them are even balikbayans.
The private sector tourism professionals are appalled at how money had been wasted in ill-thought out promotion campaigns in recent months. For example, they cited COA’s Audit Report for the Year Ended Dec. 31, 2008. COA found out that DOT spent P35,933,422.09 for the establishment and operation of Travel Café Philippines, a coffee shop in Greenbelt 5.
DOT is also providing the TravelnCuisine Philippines, Inc., (TCPI) a private company, promotional assistance of P6 million and procurement of merchandise worth P474,490. A continuing subsidy of P200,000 is also being made to operate the coffee shop for three years or some P7.2 million. COA is at a loss to explain how that Tourism Café is supposed to promote tourism at all. COA notes running a coffee shop is not in DOT’s mandate.
The problem with the private sector people is that they are so disappointed at government’s tourism efforts but very few of them are willing to make themselves available to be drafted by the new administration. But the recent floating of showbiz names as potential tourism secretaries got them worried enough to at least convince one of them to be open to a draft.
The name I am hearing as the choice of the private sector is Andy Bautista, the current local head of the Kuok interests in the Philippines. Atty Bautista, who is also a weekend columnist of The Philippine Star and a member of the Tuesday Club, has the experience of an executive in a tourism conglomerate… the Shangri-la Group. He is also the brother of Liberal Party senatorial bet, Dr. Martin Bautista.
Well, they may need Andy’s legal expertise too (he is dean of the FEU College of Law) to unravel the horrible midnight appointments of Ate Glue in the tourism department. There is also a need to review and consult the private sector on the implementing rules of the new Tourism law. Andy sounds to me like a tourism secretary we need at the moment even if he doesn’t have the showbiz credentials that Kris Aquino may like for this post in her brother’s cabinet.
Right now, we have tourism officials who are not even willing to supply tourism figures to international tourism organizations for last year. That’s probably because the figures had been monkeyed around and the international tourism bodies know the real score. Hopefully… really hopefully… the new administration finally gets it right for tourism. –Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star)