2019 has been an impressive year for the Philippine tourism industry with the country bagging several accolades showing that efforts from both the public and private sectors to promote tourism are paying off.

For one, the country was named the leading diving destination in the 2019 World Travel Awards (WTA) for the first time. The Department of Tourism (DOT) also received a citation as Asia’s Leading Tourism Board with its success in boosting the country’s arrivals last year.

Meanwhile, Palawan continues to dominate as a world-class tourist destination, landing on CNN Travel’s list of 10 world’s most beautiful islands.

The same goes for Cebu and Boracay, two Philippine destinations included in the World’s Best Awards of the Travel + Leisure magazine this year.

Aside from citations, figures proved continuous growth in the country’s tourism industry.

From January to October 2019, the latest data provided by the DOT showed an upward trend in foreign tourist arrivals, which tallied over 6.8 million, up by at least 15.04 percent compared to the 5,911,161 visitors for the same period in 2018.

Environmental efforts

Although a lot needs to be done especially on infrastructure, the private sector is also seeing positive development on the track the Philippine tourism is taking.

“There’s some catching up to do but despite that, I think because of the private sector’s effort to provide continuity, still we’re able to manage to continue the programs and at the end of the day, we’re still on track,” said Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA) president Cesar Cruz, referring to the transition period in the change of DOT’s leadership.

“The marketing program that has been in place last year, and that was in place also by the beginning of this government has been continuing. We still have about three years so hopefully by next year, 80 percent of these infrastructures, other airports, ferry terminals, modernization of our roll-on-roll-off (RoRo) would contribute a lot,” he added.

On the other hand, he hailed the development of several destinations in the country, which started with the rehabilitation of the world-popular resort island Boracay.

The executive described these moves as an introduction to Philippine tourism that adheres to sustainability.

“The development regarding the destination in terms of sustainability is a plus factor, especially for travelers. The travelers now are very conscious that they just don’t go to the place because of the site, they want to visit a destination that is conscious of the environment and sustainability of the place,” he noted.

For the part of the government, the DOT continues to acknowledge and adapt to the current trends in travel and tourism.

“We can no longer be just fixated with the headcount; we also have to look at the revenue stream. And we also have to look at the sustainability part of our development efforts,” DOT Undersecretary Benito Bengzon, Jr. said in a recent DOT year-end assessment interview.

Following up on the Boracay rehabilitation that saw the island resort’s closure for six months in 2018, Bengzon said the DOT was able to establish “a new set of development guidelines,” which redefined their approach with respect to destination and promotions development.

“The Boracay experience has taught us, among others, the need for convergence with the appropriate government agencies. The Boracay experience has also taught us the importance of making sure that there is a strong buy-in coming from the local stakeholders and the local community because, at the end of the day, it’s really going to be the locals who will be implementing these measures 24/7,” he shared.

With the prominent Boracay project, Bengzon said the government has since recognized the need to strengthen sustainable tourism efforts. Looking at other destinations in the country, he said stakeholders have also been visibly inspired by the successes achieved on the island.

“Now, other destinations are also coming up with their guidelines on carrying capacities, what to use and what not to use. Who would have thought five years or 10 years ago that we would be making a big issue out of sunscreen but now we’re at that level. The appreciation is getting deeper as we achieve more successes,” he said.

Rehab efforts after Boracay

This year, the government has shifted its focus on restoring the pristine condition of tourist sites in Coron and El Nido in Palawan.

In fact, it has tapped financial assistance from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to fund its cleanup initiatives in the two top destinations.

The assistance will focus on solid waste management as well as capacity building of local stakeholders to maintain a sustainable environment for the two areas.

In El Nido, the Department of the Interior and Local Government last July reported that at least 3.4 million most probable number/100 milligrams on fecal coliform level have been found in the water samples taken from one of the outfalls in Corong-Corong and Bacuit Bay.

The two shorefronts’ condition was also compounded by the presence of informal settler families, non-enforcement of easement regulations on outfalls, and unregulated dry-docking and mooring activities. “(Its rehabilitation) would be long term,” Bengzon said.

SEA Games hosting

2019 is an eventful year for the country’s tourism sector as the Philippines also hosted the Southeast Asian Games which was estimated to have brought in a total of 137,563 room nights to hotels across the Metro Manila.

“The immediate benefit there was the delegates were present so you would see the immediate spike or increase in the foreign visitor arrivals. For short to medium term effects, since all networks were focused on the games, the level of awareness on the country increased also,” Bengzon shared.

Aside from its immediate impact, the infrastructure left since the hosting is also seen to particularly boost Central Luzon’s tourism industry.

The modern New Clark City sports facilities used in the recently-concluded 30th SEA Games include the 20,000-seater Athletics Stadium that has an International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) certified track, the 2,000-seater Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA)-certified and baklad-inspired Aquatics Center, and an Athletes Village.

Earlier, DOT Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat emphasized the government’s vision to have a sustainable tourism industry by facilitating integrated multi-industry growth areas.

“The national government is aiming for a more resilient economy by building regional growth centers across the country, and part and parcel of this outlook is ensuring the availability of public infrastructures and facilities to enable and support the economic progress,” she said. (Joyce Ann L. Rocamora, PNA)