Still yet to take the oath of office, incoming Tourism Secretary, Wanda Corazon Teo, has already announced her first policy – she won’t be changing the ‘It’s More Fun in the Philippines’ slogan, coined by her predecessor, Ramon Jimenez. “We’ll retain it,” she told a news crew (17 June). “That’s a good slogan. It will stay”.
She also provided some insights into the direction of tourism strategy under her watch. One focus will be on second-tier resorts. Teo believes that the prime destinations of Boracay, Palawan, Bohol and Cebu require little promotion and that promotional cash should be channeled to building awareness of lesser-known destinations.
She intends to visit a number of locations and discuss their potential with local government authorities to determine how best to develop them as tourism assets.
But while there are “many beautiful places in the Philippine,” as she remarked, there are not too many beautiful roads leading to them. It is a problem of which she is fully aware and has already made overtures to incoming Public Works and Highways Secretary, Mark Villar, for assistance in tackling what is one of the biggest impediments which the sector faces. Villar, for his part, has promised to work closely with her on this issue.
There is no doubt that the country has the natural resources to create a large and comprehensive tourist industry that could compete with other Southeast Asian locations such as Thailand and Malaysia – the top two destinations for foreign tourists in the region. First though, it must fight off Vietnam and Cambodia whose numbers have surpassed those of the Philippines and continue to rise. But as Teo knows, it won’t be able to do any of that until it first addresses the serious state of its infrastructure.
Lack of airport capacity in the provinces, which ensures the tourist potential remains untapped, is another of her concerns and she has approached the Department of Transportation and Communications (soon to be the Department of Transportation) for assistance in upgrading provincial airports. Works to improve and expand a number of provincial airports – to upgrade terminals and passenger facilities, expand car-parking capacity and install taxiways for aircraft – are currently in process and further schemes are being considered under the governments Public-Private Partnership programme.
Another Teo strategy involves harnessing the Department of Trade and Industry’s ‘One Town, One Product’ (OTOP) programme to the needs of the tourism sector. OTOP encourages businessmen in cities across the country to identify, develop and promote products and services which have a competitive advantage. In some cases, Teo believes, those products and services could be tourism or tourism-related.