Government News Analysis Tourism

Tourism and terrorism

Philippines tourism news

The constant bombardment of media headlines showing the Philippines as a bloody ghetto where tourists are as likely to come across bullet-ridden bodies lying lifeless in the street as they are to experience fish while snorkelling around the country’s near-legendary coral reefs (photo), makes the Philippines a hard sell. Not surprising then that Tourism Secretary, Wanda Teo, is frustrated with the global anti-Duterte coverage which is more or less guaranteed to drive down foreign-visitor numbers.

Her job is tough enough, given the paucity of travel-trade infrastructure she inherited from past administrations; given the country’s legacy image as a low-end destination appealing more to backpackers and sex tourists than to families seeking a couple of weeks in the sun. Trying to manage the few assets at her disposal and change those perceptions is challenging enough without the scare stories.

It’s difficult to convince holidaymakers “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” when they’re constantly being told that Vlad the Impaler’s running the country. But that’s what they read – in all Philippine coverage by the Liberal media, the country’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, is depicted as a blood-crazed butcher who delights in killing his own people.

In their boiler-plate articles (they all read the same way) he’s slaughtered thousands of them – some he’s slain personally. Wholly uncorroborated, they write like that with a straight face. And, like water dripping on a stone, it’s been steadily eroding the country’s image as a holiday destination. According to the tourism secretary, overseas tour operators – particularly in Europe and other parts of Asia – regularly express concern about the security situation in the Philippines. It’s a constant topic. It’s THE topic.

And while the international Liberal media – ably assisted by elements of the pro-Liberal Party domestic press – gleefully rearrange the words ‘Hitler’, ‘tyrant’, ‘megalomania’, ‘EJKs’ (extrajudicial killings), ‘dictator’, in their bitter game of Scrabble which for them passes as journalism, all Teo is trying to do is her job.

The problem is though, once the lie is out there, it’s virtually impossible to stop – and particularly when it’s persistently being reinforced by the likes of Vice President and Liberal Party chairman, Leni Robredo, an arch-critic of Duterte whose job she wants.

But then the purpose of the lie is for it to become self-fulfilling. If foreign-tourist numbers drop – which they have been doing – opponents of Duterte’s War on Drugs are vindicated. They use the fall in numbers and the resulting fall in tourism revenue to illustrate the damage Duterte’s doing to the economy. For any newcomers, welcome to the dirty business of Philippine politics.

Unfortunately though, while Teo rightly urges the media to “tone down” their false propaganda-based anti-drugs-war coverage, another development is likely to provide a far bigger deterrent to Philippine tourism. And while even the rabidly anti-Duterte media can’t apportion blame to government policy in this case, the fact is that the country’s travel trade is going to find it tough to allay fears over the safety of foreigners.

Last Friday the US Embassy in the Philippines released a terror-warning to American citizens travelling to the country as well as to those living there. In itself, that’s not unusual; such warnings are routinely issued by all Western missions. But while those in all but a few cases have traditionally involved concerns for foreign nationals travelling to provinces in the west of Mindanao, the large southern island region where Islamic extremism is an ongoing problem – it’s been around there for decades – Friday’s warning did not.

Its caution was for travel to the middle of the country – the Central Visayas region; and specifically the provinces of Cebu and Bohol; both big tourist destinations.  In 2016, of the 5.97 million foreign visitors to the Philippines, well over one third travelled to Cebu. In fact, so important is this region to the country’s tourism industry that the Department of Tourism has been relocated there from the capital, Manila.

The embassy travel warning was even more specific – referring to “unsubstantiated yet credible information” concerning the possible kidnappings of US nationals by terror groups.US citizens should be mindful of the importance of taking preventative measures to ensure their safety and security while traveling and residing in the Philippines,” it said.

The statement urged US citizens to be particularly vigilant, to review personal security plans, and avoid large crowds and gatherings. These it listed as sporting events, theatres, markets, mass-transportation systems (including airlines), crowded nightclubs, shopping malls, buses and popular restaurants. In other words all the usual places where tourists go.

Yesterday, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade followed suit issuing a travel advisory of its own to Australian nationals. Again, Central Visayas was highlighted and Cebu and Bohol provinces were again identified. “We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in the Philippines due to the high threat of terrorist attack and the high level of crime,” the advisory said.

It would seem that both the Americans and the Australians were working off the same intelligence which may be related to the recent arrests of two high-ranking Islamic State bomb makers – Jihadis arrested in Manila – who are known to have visited Central Visayas including a stopover in Cebu City where they spent a few days.

This is a critical development and there’s no way of underplaying it. The Islamic-extremist threat has arrived at the heart of the Philippines major tourism hub – an area which had been specifically earmarked for tourism development. It was to be at the vanguard of a new era of Philippine tourism.

Dealing with media terrorism – the undermining of government by helping to create economic failure in an already-challenged sector – is one thing. Islamic terrorism with all the horror which that invokes is quite another. Oddly, they’ll have the same effect as far as overseas arrivals are concerned, but in the case of the latter the anti-Duterte factions can’t claim any victory. Indeed, any attack on the country will further inure support for the president and his policies. In other words it’ll have the direct opposite effect of what they hope to achieve with their slamming of Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign.

Following the bombing last Christmas which killed 14 people in a night market in Duterte’s home town, Davao City, the outpouring of support for the president’s immediate announcement that he’d declared “a state of lawlessness” – powers allowing police and military assets to be drafted in to set up checkpoints and impose curfews – was palpable right across the country.

With the exception of a few feeble media attempts to raise the spectre of martial law, the country fully backed the president’s decision. And that will be the case if he decides to impose ‘emergency powers’ following any future incidents.

Just over a week ago, Duterte’s hardcore supporters called on him to declare a “revolutionary government’. This, if it takes effect, would be more far ranging. It would allow him to override Congress and push to replace the 1987 Constitution with the 1973 Constitution which was promulgated following the declaration of martial law by then-president, Ferdinand Marcos, a man the Liberal Left hates even more than Duterte.

So the state of play is this. While the media can tarnish the country’s image abroad and inflict damage on the Philippine travel and tourism industry – in effect by warning people not to go there – they’re gambling that a reduction in foreign arrivals will turn the tide of popularity against Duterte. They’ll try to show that tourism was far healthier under the previous Liberal Party administration which they support and want reinstated – in the interim, under Robredo.

However, all that could be taken out of their hands if Duterte decides to establish some form of a state of emergency in reply to any terrorist threat. Counter-terrorism measures would be difficult to argue against by the international media – and of course, particularly where American lives might be put at risk.

Either way it’s not great news for tourism. But the reality is this. A country awash with drugs – and all the attendant crime; thieving, scamming, mugging, rape and violence – is a poor foundation for an industry that’s promoting fun and relaxation.

Equally, it’s hard to build out tourism in the presence of a jihadist threat. Ask tour operators in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. In October 2015, a terrorist bomb placed on an aircraft full of holidaymakers returning home from the resort exploded over North Sinai killing all 224 people on board. Tourist numbers dropped by 45.9%. Since that attack, Egypt’s tourism has been described as “one disaster from being finished”.

Ask anyone in the travel trade in Tunisia. In June 2015, a lone Islamist carried out a mass shooting at a resort close to the city of Sousse killing 39 people as they lay on the beach or ran for safety in the hotel. Following that rampage, British arrivals dropped by 90% – 30 of the dead were from the UK – while overall, foreign tourist numbers fell by 1 million as revenues plunged by 35%. Businesses closed, staff were made jobless and the local currency travelled to historic lows against the dollar and the euro.

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  • I hope that the heartless yellow mob with its hypocritical patriotism take to reading this article and start renewing their selfless love for country and its people. God bless us all!

    • Alma Fe Garcia Javelosa who is looking for scapegoats, woman? You’re colorless. Tell that to the marines! Your name is always plastered in negative comments against the present dispensation.

    • Siony Alcantara thanks for affirming my observation about that woman. Lately, she has been getting my goat for always commenting negatively about positive news/positive comments on the accomplishments of the present dispensation. She even had the gall of countering Volatilian’s insightful and fairly-written articles. In my books, she is just a plain charlatan and paid hack. Shame on her!

    • Mr. De Leon are you telling every well meaning Filipinos to cease from exercising dissent? If I’ve to tell you that the opposition’s misplaced and inappropriate media blitz to discredit the President is self-serving; and the present Administration’s seeming disInterest in solving the DUIs are both contributing to the country’s deteriorating image aren’t true? That instead of offering solutions to the problems these mainstream political oppositions’ are good at amplifying, bothers my limited intellect; and the President’s unfriendly remarks to the west are giving their citizens second thoughts of visiting the country aren’t true? If you’re labelling the LPs “yellowtards” and the Panot disciples as “blind followers” then how do you label those ass-licking supporters to the present Malacañang tenant who loves to sing hallelujah even in instances where this government commits glaring mistakes? Do you belong to those ass-lickers?

    • Gerondio–define “well-meaning Filipinos exercising dissent!” Of course, you do not consider us as such, yes? Well we are exercising dissent–our purpose is CHANGE, and here’s a man who is willing to do so against all odds–inheriting all the miasmas of the past administrations who want to MAINTAIN their nefarious means! If that makes me an ‘ass-licker’–golly gee why not!!!!

  • Those egoistic presstitutes would walk over dead bodies just to defame Digong! They are aware that they are destroying the very country who nourished them but egoistic as they are,sarili muna bago bayan!

  • The end result of the liberal party/international ,Aquino’s,main stream media and oligarchs now will they stand up to what they want to picture our country to other countries?

  • Yellowtards and their minions are the REAL THREAT to the nation’s progress and development. Unless these ABNORMALS will be rehabilitated this country will never prosper.

  • Duterte really cares about Filipino people. I’ve been studying him for 5 years. Western media and the rich Filipino anti-Duterte media is seen thru by a lot of my American friends. They cannot even trust their own media. Tourism can be boosted by having a nice landscape impression. Many of my friends were completely turned off by TRASH everywhere. Tourism has to focus on impressions and solid waste management. I live by ocean bear Cebu City, and the shores are always covered with trash

  • Duterte really cares about Filipino people. I’ve been studying him for 5 years. Western media and the rich Filipino anti-Duterte media is seen thru by a lot of my American friends. They cannot even trust their own media. Tourism can be boosted by having a nice landscape impression. Many of my friends were completely turned off by TRASH everywhere. Tourism has to focus on impressions and solid waste management. I live by ocean bear Cebu City, and the shores are always covered with trash.

  • What’s reality and what’s not? The US Travel advisory was confirmed by the ongoing fire fight between the suspected Terror group and the Phil Security Forces; the Real count on how many were killed was placed at plus 6thou by the PNP inclusive of all DUI’s and Nanlabans; the President kept saying that “He’ll Kill Those that are into drugs” in almost all of his public speeches; and killed they are. VP Leni’s UN Pronouncement was not necessary to shoo away foreign tourists but she aggravated it. I for one disagrees with what she did. However, I am into believing that for the Philippines to be competitive, it needs to STOP the DUIs, STOP the “nanlaban” palusot by the PNP [ah, how about the Korean butchered inside Crame?], STOP the President from his admission as killer and public statements of executing extra-judicially which, to the PNP is an implied LICENSE TO KILL.

  • Ms. Secretary, look at the daily news. Well if you don’t want these daily killing hugging the main news items, tell the media outlets not to print or broadcast those. Once its out in the local news outlets, the international journalists will pick it up. We don’t need a Leni or LP or a Trillanes to scare foreign tourists away. All we need is to coddle the ineptitude of the government to STOP these killings and there – PALTRY TOURIST ARRIVALS.

  • Most Filipinos these days just take in stride the anti Duterte efforts of the Liberal Left. We are satisfied with the present administration as shown by the most recent SWS survey giving Duterte more than 80% approval rating. While the noise of the Liberal Left can temporarily affect tourism, the positive side is it’s only a minor contributor to GNP.
    There is always time for retribution to those with evil intent and deed. Duterte’s political will is unprecedented in the Philippines, so he must not be underestimated especially by the evil factions of the Liberal establishments.
    For us the winds of change are simply irreversible.

  • The article is pure politicized bullshit. It is so divisive and it offers no real solution. You can measure how a government cares for a particularly industry by the amount of money it spend for the industry’s infrastructure. Guess how much money did the Philippine government spend on tourism infrastructure and compare that to Thailand.

  • As long as foreigners are not allowed to possess land, as long as foreign companies are restricted to only 49 % shares in the company even if they paid 100 % of the shares no real foreign investment will take place and this also applies to the tourism industry. So the real hampering factor is the ill fated protectionism.

  • That was done before during ML days when opposition tried to destroy the regime including the whole nation into their hands. The country suffered from foreign investments together with the low tourist arrival afraid at the news about ML & the killings of rebels, activists, families & other opposition groups. So this is nothing new just to depose a president who they never thought to win by a big margin. A president not moulded into their refined stature of manners & language who is deemed radical & a pro poor politician. One whom they perceived to be evil than them, a dictatorial character like Marcos, unstatesman, undignified person, foul mouthed, womanizer, killer & unknowledgeble about world wide events & the observance of protocol rules governing a dignified head of state. Please, give this country a break from your destabilizing agenda because he is our president of the 16 million minions, trolls,dutertards, die hard fanatics & supporters, blind followers of a lunatic person, fenantyl users like their amo or poon etc. Your agenda is a deservice to the nation because we are not under ML, we are freely doing what we want except the lawless elements & drug crazed users, we are enjoying a peaceful environment unlike what is pictured as a killing field, yes there is an army & police operations confined to a small area to rid us once & for all the pesky ASG, there is a peace moratorium between the government & the NPA together with our muslim brothers & lastly we are moving indepently on our national policy to be friendly with the other major powers who are rivals of America getting substantial investments no other president has gotten from previous roadshows & state visits. We are energizing our infrastructure projects so the whole country may benefit from the planned infras. If you are not happy with these progress on the line then you do not love & want this country to move forward but remain under your selfish motives then so be it. May God save our country from a downward path.

  • […] In April, Department of Tourism (DOT) Secretary, Wanda Teo, expressed her frustration at a slew of travel warnings coming out of foreign embassies which alerted visitors to the dangers of travelling to parts of the Philippines – specifically, the tourism hubs of Cebu and Bohol in the Central Visayas – because of potential threats from Abu Sayyaf terrorists; she also urged the international media to “tone down” their over-the-top coverage of the government’s drugs war – Tourism and terrorism. […]