How is tourism faring in our country, and how do we take advantage of it?
The industry is one of the largest in the world, with people expected to spend $1 trillion this year on travel and tourism-related experience.
Last year, China alone sent more than 105 million tourists abroad, spending $100 billion. This is expected to grow to over $220 billion in eight years.
Chinese tourists in the Philippines reached 400,000 in 2015; 650,000 in 2016; on course to exceed 1 million this year, and with a possibility of breaching 4 million by 2020. This steep ascent is very possible if we cite other nations for analogy. Thailand had 28 million tourists in 2016, of whom 10 million were Chinese; Japan had 6 million Chinese tourists in 2015, and South Korea had 8 million.
Korean tourists here should also grow by some 300,000 this year. Let’s not forget the increasing number of Westerners and the returning Filipinos. Domestic tourists are likewise enjoying their own country.
Tourism growth is at such a turning point that massive investment is entering this sector in anticipation of a boom. Seasonal Boracay has become a year-round party center. Ayala has taken over all luxury resorts and major draws on one side of Palawan, while Megaworld and San Miguel have started developing projects in and around Boracay. All major developers have also purchased land in tourist draws like Palawan, Bohol, Mactan in search for other emerging sites.
Boutique and low-cost hotels, restaurants and retail operators have already mapped out possible future locations, many of whom are entering partnerships with chains to build experience and networks. Even small operators are making their presence felt in Batanes all the way to Mindanao.
One can also see the turnaround in casino income: From negative in late 2015 to earning healthy billions in 2016 due to renewed interest from the Chinese. Korean resorts, Japanese restaurants, US franchises are sprouting everywhere.
Davao has also become a new capital, a center of pilgrimage drawing a new class of business and political visitors.
The government is doing its part by adding visa processing locations abroad, accelerating the expansion of existing airports and building new ones, rationalizing airport landing usage to shorten waiting times, speeding up processing at airports (although overtime pay issues have become sources of delays lately), obtaining free and fast internet service, and adding lights for night flights.
The Miss Universe event held here early this year was a successful international marketing event, as were many international conferences held recently.
The airlines are also doing their part by adding local and international direct flights while dropping ticket prices.
What can we do to bolster this industry further? We can use more regular translators in airports and hotels to prevent scams and misunderstandings; more tour guides and venue operators; and visible signs and instructions in different languages.
We can do something with our lodging costs, which are higher than our neighbors. We also need more clustered sites for tourists to visit within one day.
To attract higher spending tourists, we need higher quality services and facilities, better reliable communications signals, more diversified attractions, more business to do and more attractive items to purchase (rather than the same souvenir items and designs from 60 years ago).
Let us not forget the security concerns of foreigners. We need to provide them with quick-response tourist police or advice-on-call services.
Tourism through television and movie locations (such as how Korea is doing it) and better history and museum tours are potential developments.
What makes tourism dollar so valuable in the Philippines? It’s a happy, friendship-building, family-enhancing, memories-creating dollar.
It is as inclusive a growth as you can get: You don’t have to go abroad or pass college, or build a manufacturing facility.
When a tourism dollar is spent down to its last cent, student guides, waiters, masseuse, boatmen, low-cost huts, small shops … as well as hotels, telcos and airlines all earn. A large portion of the income remains here rather than being remitted abroad.
The goodwill leads to other ideas and relationships, transactions, leading to investments and social—even environmental—ecosystems being built in a country.
Some 80 percent of business ideas are actually generated by travel.
Tourism as an industry fits us, Filipinos, who are recognized the world over for our warmth, service, and for being fun to just be around.
(This article first appeared in: http://business.inquirer.net/227836/tourism-million-spent-can-translate-profit-billions)