Terror threats make it harder for PH to become key tourist destination
Terrorist attacks have been causing a major strain to the country’s travel and tourism sector.
Whenever there are threats of or actual terrorist attacks, local tourism players suffer immediate decline in business as guests cancel trips and hotel bookings.
In the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index 2017, the Philippines slid five places to 79th spot out of 136 countries. The country got an overall score of 3.6 and of the 14 pillars considered, it was on safety and security that the Philippines got its lowest rank. The Philippines landed at the 126th place, the bottom end of the spectrum.
Figures also showed the Philippines lagging behind all the other Asean countries when in the safety and security aspect, scoring way below the regional average for that pillar.
“A handful of countries in [Southeast Asia] continue to have declining security perceptions resulting from political developments in recent years, leaving tourists with a sense of unpredictability,” the report added.
This report was released before the clash between government troops and the Maute group in Marawi and President Duterte’s declaration of martial law in Mindanao.
In terms of the subcomponents of the safety and security pillar, the country fared as follow: Business costs of crime and violence (108th); reliability of police services (108th); business costs of terrorism (118th); index of terrorism incidence (126th) and homicide rate (111th).
Aside from security concerns, the report also attributed the country’s poor performance in the tourism space to its restrictive visa policy which affected its “openness” performance (60th) and the reduction by almost half of the government budget for the development of the travel and tourism sector that eroded the efficiency of ground transport (107th, down 14 places).
“These factors may not have had their full effect yet and may further reduce tourism activity in the future,” the report added.
The conduciveness of the business environment (82nd) declined because of less effective judicial system and stricter rules on foreign direct investments and diminished protection of property rights. Although environmental policy has improved, it remains low (118th), posing a risk to undermine natural resources, the country’s “main asset” in attracting more tourists.
On the other hand, the country seemed to have performed well in some of the pillars, such as in natural resources (37th), price competitiveness (22nd), and continued growth of arrivals. The Philippines also ranked 92nd in health and hygiene, 50th in human resources and labor market, 86th in ICT readiness, 53rd in government prioritization of travel and tourism, 65th in air transport infrastructure, 87th in tourist service infrastructure and 60th in cultural resources and business travel.
“Although the Philippines’ T & T (travel and tourism) potential remains high, there are several areas where policy interventions could help to regain competitiveness,” it said.
Spain topped the global tourism competitiveness ranking for the second time, followed by France, Germany, Japan (4th, up five places), the United Kingdom, the United States (6th, down two places), Australia, Italy, Canada (9th, up from 10th) and Switzerland (10th, down four places).
The leading countries in the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are Singapore (13th), Malaysia (26th), Thailand (34th), Indonesia (42nd), Sri Lanka (64th) and Vietnam (67th). The Philippines performed better than Lao PDR (94th) and Cambodia (101st).
According to data from the World Tourism Organization and WTTC, international tourist arrivals in the Philippines reached 5.4 million. International tourism inbound receipts reached $5,276.3 million, equivalent to an average receipt per arrival of $984.3.
The country has been the subject of several travel advisories following the clashes between government troops and the Maute group in Marawi this week and between government troops and Abu Sayyaf in Bohol last month.
Earlier, Tourism Secretary Wanda Teo said these travel advisories made it hard for her department to promote the Philippines as a tourist destination.
She had asked foreign embassies in the country to first check the real situation with the authorities concerned before issuing travel advisories.
But Teo said they were stepping up efforts to continuously promoting the country as a safe travel destination.
Teo reiterated this position during a session in the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, last month. The summit was attended by more than 900 delegates from both the public and the private sectors.
Although the travel and tourism sector is already a substantial contributor to the global economy, generating more than $7.6 trillion in revenue and creating more than 292 million jobs, terror attacks prevent the sector from reaching its full potential.
In his keynote speech in the WTTC Summit, former UK Prime Minister David Cameron said Islamist extremism was the “major threat to our world and to the travel and tourism industry.” The effect on tourism of terrorism threats, he said, “can be absolutely devastating.”
During the summit, Cameron urged industry leaders to work hand in hand with the government to confront this challenge, adding that the security of the citizens must always come first.
“Our industry has a huge amount to lose if we get this wrong and it has a huge amount to gain if we get this right and I know how difficult it can all be,” he added.
David Scowsill, president and CEO of WTTC, remained optimistic, saying the sector had shown continued resiliency in the face of terrorist attacks and natural disasters.
“The fear engendered by dividing us into races or religions destroys the notion that each human being is unique. I believe wholeheartedly that closed borders lead to closed minds; that travel makes the world a better, a more peaceful place, and that human encounters across cultures change us for the better,” Scowsill said.
Aside from terrorism, sustainability still remains a cause of concern for the sector.
Scowsill called for the “eradication of poverty, cleaning up the oceans and protecting habitats.”
“This sector plays a vital part in the global quest for a more equal, inclusive and sustainable world. For our sector to continue to thrive, we must focus on three elements; people need to be able to travel; we need successful businesses; and we need responsible practices,” Scowsill concluded.
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