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Cafes and cruises: PH formula to bringing in tourists

/ 12:03 AM November 18, 2016
Samie Lim

Samie Lim

The Philippines attracted 5.36 million foreign tourists in 2015, each one staying here an average of 10.5 days. The country earned some P227.62 billion in revenues, a 6-percent increase from the previous year.

Samie Lim, vice president for tourism and retailing of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), has proposed 8As to drastically improve tourism in the Philippines: arrival, access, accommodations, attractions, activities, advertising, academic linkage, and assurance of safety.

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Lim shares his thoughts on how tourism can be another engine of economic growth and pride for the Philippines.

Market share

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Q1. How is our state of tourism versus other Asian competitors from the perspective of PCCI? Are we gaining market shares this 2016?

A: In 2004, PCCI’s “Biztour 5” program rallied the public and private sectors to support a “holistic plan to double the carrying capacity for international tourists from 2.3 million to five million.”

The infrastructure chain—airport, access road, accommodation, and world-class attractions and activities—has now become inadequate for the six million international tourists and some 50 million domestic tourists.

We now rank sixth out of 10 Asean countries in terms of international tourist arrivals. We have been overtaken by Indonesia and Vietnam.

If we do not build our capacity for at least 20 million tourists by 2026, we will probably be overtaken by Cambodia and Myanmar and slide down to the 8th position.

Even at 20 million international tourists, we will only have a 3.7-percent market share of the Asian market of 530 million by 2030.

Q2. Why do you think revenues from foreign tourists are not growing as fast as the number of people arriving (6 percent versus 16 percent growth)?

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A: Although we have some of the best resorts in the world, there is the bad experience at the airport, the horrendous traffic, the questionable ratings of hotels, the low-quality equipment at tourist destinations. We also attract the mid-low end of tourists, who each spend less than $1000 for the trip.

We need to upgrade our facilities to attract the mid and high-end market that spends $2,000 to $4,000 per visit (per person).

We are missing out on the biggest generator for tourism revenue, which is shopping. A tourist can buy several shoes, bags, clothing, jewelry, gadgets, but our prices are not competitive because we do not have the “VAT-refund system” for tourists like those offered by top tourist destinations. Take note that a tourist can buy only one air ticket and one hotel room.

They also buy dozens of souvenir items and food delicacies but our packaging is not good enough for gift-giving.

Q3. You are a proponent to making Clark a key international airport. Why would this be a compelling solution?

A: The total capacity for Naia 1, 2 and 3 is 43.5 million passengers per year, if they all operate at maximum efficiency. In 2015, we have reached 36.5 million passengers. Currently, we have ridiculous runways that crisscross each other and we do not have adequate air traffic control facilities.

The Naia congestion is an air disaster waiting to happen. We must develop a second airport—it can be in Clark, Sangley, Bulacan or any strategic location in Luzon to decongest Manila.

With 7,107 islands, it is important to upgrade the Cebu airport to become the hub for Visayas and a new international gateway in Davao for the Mindanao cluster. The international tourist should have a direct flight to the Visayas and Mindanao without having to pass by Manila.  This will further decongest Naia.

Country edge

Q4. Traffic is bad in the Philippines but so are cities like Jakarta and Bangkok. What would be the Philippines’ edge?

A: In Manila, we should redefine and promote three major and distinct tourist districts. We should use airport buses to bring them directly to any of these self-contained tourist destinations: The “Bay Area Tourism District” stretching from Intramuros to Roxas Boulevard to SM Mall of Asia and the Entertainment City area; “The Makati/BGC District”; and finally, the “Ortigas/Araneta Tourism District.”

Each of these three has everything that will take the whole of Jakarta and Bangkok have to offer, and these self-contained districts are conveniently located in a cluster.

The tourists are just a few blocks away from where they can shop, where they can do business, shop, dine and be entertained. There are cultural, historical and religious sites to visit and even a golf course in the vicinity. It is all there and if they want more, they can take overnight trips to the other tourism districts in and outside Metro Manila.

Q5. You have been a critique of the existing star-rating system for accommodations. Tell us what’s wrong with it and what’s a better way?

A: PCCI advocated for our internationally understood and accepted rating system for hotels that led to the passage of a law. The implementing rules were drafted by a small group of “experts” and implemented without much consultation with the sectors concerned nor with the PCCI network and was therefore rejected by some of the industry players.

I still believe that a rating system should be in place, to attract the seasoned international traveler, but we have to consult and get the acceptance of the industry on the quantitative and qualitative standard of the rating system.

Q6. Given limited resources, what’s the better advertising strategy—associate the Philippines with a few world-class attractions (like Palawan and Boracay) or advertise as many attractions as possible?

A: With our limited budget, we should focus on what is easy to sell: Boracay, Palawan, Bohol, Intramuros, Cebu and Davao. And from there, we entice them to stay a few more days to visit other tourist destinations that are clustered about one hour from there.

Under the present circumstances, we may find it more productive to reallocate some of our tourism budget from the “long haul” USA and European market and use it to target the “short haul” wealthy Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Indonesians.

Q7: Thailand has Thai massage and restaurants all around the world as their informal way of promoting Thailand. What can be the Philippine version?

A: Japan, Korea and Thailand believe the shortest way to a person’s heart is through the stomach. They have aggressively promoted their restaurants abroad.

Francorp has helped develop a unique food franchise concept that can be set up in strategic markets all over the world. That will appeal to the various senses of tourists to convince them to visit the Philippines.

The idea is to visually attract the tourist to enter the “Philippine Travel Café,” because of enticing shop premises and interiors with a distinct Filipino character.

He will be warmly welcomed by cheerful Filipino music and smiling staff in Filipino attire.

As he savors some Filipino signature dishes, desserts and beverages, he will be visually treated to the most beautiful tourist sites in the Philippines that is projected in strategically located large screens.

If the guest shows some interest, he will be given a “second menu” of tour packages to the different destinations, and by the end of his meal he can have his confirmed air/travel arrangement—all arranged by the hospitable staff.

Souvenir items, Filipino delicacies, travel books will also be available on the counter.

The healing and caring hands of our “Hilot Spa and Wellness” is another way to promote the Philippines as a destination for health and wellness for retirement.

Big trends

Q8. What do you predict will be the next big trends in tourism and what is the role of academic linkage?

A: Cruising will be the game-changer for our international and local tourism growth, whether it is a large ocean cruise that brings in 3,000 or more tourists to the Philippines or the inter-island cruises for less than 1,000 passengers brining them to the remote island tourist destinations.

The model for academic and industry linkage is the Canadian Tourism and Hospitality Institute that sets up training centers in major tourist destinations all over the country training local people for employment in various local hospitality and tourism establishments.

Q9. How will the reduced number of drug users and the Duterte administration attract or turn off potential tourists to the Philippines?

A: The eighth “A” in the supply chain for attracting international tourists is the “assumption of safety for the tourist.” The common people are now saying the streets are safer.

Let’s look forward to the peace and order that should be forthcoming. When it comes, we can look beyond the 20 million international tourist target.

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