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Tourism Benefiting from Cleanup Drive

The road-clearing operations in Metro Manila and the cleanup of Manila Bay and major tourist spots in the Philippines are two government initiatives that must be sustained.


These initiatives give the impression that there is discipline, not chaos, in the Philippines, which foreign tourists will appreciate and remember once they leave the country. Local government officials must be credited for heeding the call of President Duterte to clear the obstructions in Metro Manila and reclaim the roads from illegal vendors.


As I noted earlier in this column, illegal merchants and unscrupulous businessmen have taken over some of the major and busy roads in Metro Manila, compounding the traffic problem and giving the image that lawlessness is the order of the day in the country.


Mayors and local officials, however, must be consistent in the cleanup drive. Their initiative should not be ningas kugon, or the negative Filipino trait of passionately doing something in the early going only to lose enthusiasm later.


Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte, San Juan Mayor Francis Zamora and other local executives in Metro Manila are doing the right things in restoring order in their respective cities. By doing so, I believe they are becoming role models to our youth and hopefully inspire our younger generation to clean up the surroundings of the capital region and also protect the environment.


To prevent ningas kugon, Metro executives can review the cleanup and road-clearing program, say after one year, to report on their accomplishments and determine what more should be done to make the initiative a continuing process.


A cleaner Metro Manila, along with the restoration of our beaches and other major tourism destinations and the modernization of airports, meanwhile, will make the Philippines more attractive to foreign tourists.


President Duterte and the Department of Transportation have taken the right step in privatizing our major airports. The department should complete the process before the end of President Duterte’s term to boost the tourism sector. Handing the operations and expansion of the country’s airports to the private sector is the only way to modernize these facilities, which have been neglected in the past.


It is encouraging to learn that foreign tourists continue to come in droves to the Philippines despite our disadvantages in terms of infrastructure. Foreign tourist arrivals in the Philippines, according to the latest data of the Department of Tourism (DOT), increased 12.4 percent to 4.8 million in the first seven months of 2019 from 4.3 million year-on-year.


Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo Puyat knows that much has to be done to make the Philippines a favorite tourist destination and competitive with the rest of our Asian neighbors. She conceded that the “Build, Build, Build” program of the government was key to improving the country’s competitiveness and attractiveness.


We should not underestimate the contribution of the tourism sector to the gross domestic product.  The industry generated P245 billion in revenues from foreign visitors during the first six months of 2019, up  17.6 percent, from P203.8 billion in the same period in 2018.


The average daily expenditure and the average length of stay per tourist, according to the latest DOT figures, reached $120.60 and 9.01 nights, respectively, or up 28.6 percent and 1.8 percent year-on-year. The DOT based the figures from arrival and departure cards, shipping manifests and visitor sample surveys.


“These economic numbers are exciting but the real purpose of why the government is working hard to push these numbers up year after year is for the Filipino people. Tourism in 2018 was responsible for 5.4 million jobs in 2018, contributing 12.7 percent or P2.2 trillion to the country’s gross domestic product. At the end of the day, it is the number of lives changed for the better by tourism that would truly count,” says Romulo Puyat.


I am confident that we can lure more foreign tourists to the Philippines as long as we pursue the restoration of famous beaches, like Boracay, and the rehabilitation of Manila Bay and other waterways in the metropolis. The road-clearing operations should also continue without letup to enable the national capital region to catch up with the rest of Asia.