Nothing concerns tourists and travellers more than the dangers of making a trip to a foreign place. Whether for pleasure or business, it’s usually their first consideration. And, sadly, the Philippines doesn’t fare too well in this area. In the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report it’s ranked 126th out of 136 countries worldwide for “Safety and Security”. That puts it between the war-blighted lands of Lebanon and Ukraine.
Of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) member states surveyed – the report doesn’t cover Brunei and Myanmar – the Philippines’ position as it relates to safety and security is even more sobering. It comes last – and by a long way.
Here are those countries’ global positions with their corresponding scores. Singapore, 6th (6.5); Malaysia, 41st (5.8); Vietnam, 57th (5.6); Laos, 66th (5.4); Cambodia, 88th (5.1); Indonesia, 91st (5.1); Thailand, 118th (4.0); Philippines, 126th (3.6). That’s a full 120 places behind Singapore, the riches country in Asean, and 60 places behind Laos, Asean’s poorest country.
Furthermore, in the report’s breakdown of this category, the Philippines is ranked 108th in terms of the “Business costs of crime and violence” – in other words, the lawlessness bill picked up by the government and the private-sector. And part of that will be an invoice to tourism.
No one in their right mind would argue that the Philippines isn’t going through a particularly violent period at present – the Islamist rebellion in the southern island of Mindanao, as well as the law-enforcement effort to eradicate illegal drugs and its attempts to bring the culture of criminality under control. It’s inevitable these developments will take their toll on travel and tourism as they do elsewhere around the world. But it’s also important to keep the effects of them in perspective.
This report was compiled well before the explosion of jihadist terrorism which last month saw the takeover of a southern city by a group that’s sworn to die by the sword for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. But even before that – and well before the War on Drugs was unleashed – the Philippines was doing no better in the area of “Safety and Security”. In the World Economic Forum’s 2015 report it came 128th out of 141 countries.
And that’s quite remarkable because back in late 2014 and early 2015 when that report was being put together, the Philippines wasn’t a world story like it is today. There was no global media campaign against the presidency of the country as there is now – in fact, during that period the media were flattering about the Philippines leadership.
Then-president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, according to the reports of the time, had produced an economic miracle for the Philippines. And to some extent that’s true – though the benefits of it never reached the wider population. But beneath the surface, the Philippines was no less violent; crime rates were in the stratosphere. And for tourists and travellers it was no less dangerous then than it is today.
In other words, it would be facile and also irresponsible to simply put down the Philippines’ present dismal ranking down to the law-and-order efforts of the past 12 months. The archipelago has some very deep underlying problems – like large-scale drug use; like wholesale criminality; like organised crime (people trafficking, prostitution, narcotics); like Islamist terror; like the armed communist insurgency of the New People’s Army – all of which have attracted negative international-media coverage through the lightening rod of President Rodrigo Duterte.
But they were always there and they’ll continue to be; and they’ll continue to concern travellers and tourists until they’ve been eradicated or at least brought under control. And when that day comes, Philippine tourism can flourish and race ahead of many of its Asean competitors.