Bangayan sa Bora

I was very bothered and alarmed upon watching “Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho”‘s last episode about a current dispute between the local Boracay Tour Guide vs. foreign guides.

Boracay is our country’s top beach destination and has consistently been voted as one of the best beaches in the world by many travel magazines and organizations. I’ve been to Boracay many times in the past and the sheer powdery like white sand, clear waters and vibrant night life are good enough magnets to draw attention of local and foreign tourists alike.

The last time I was in Boracay was more than 5 years ago. During that time, there are already plenty of Korean tourists but in recent years more and more South Koreans visit the country which is definitely good for our tourism. I can imagine some parts of Boracay now has transformed into a Korean town of sorts.

On top of that, we have also been drawing a good share of Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese and Russian tourists lately.

More tourists means more business and employment opportunities for locals right? But not in the case of Tour Guides in the island as what Jessica Soho’s program depicts in their last episode.

A lot of the licensed local tour guides are now finding themselves getting fewer share of the tour guiding works for these nationals. This is due to the fact that many of the tour groups and travel companies prefer hiring native speakers to assist the group rather than getting Filipino guide who mostly can only speak Filipino and English language.

Naturally, if I am a Korean I would prefer a Korean tour guide who speaks the same language as I am, understand a Korean tourist behavior better at the same or slightly higher price than Filipino guides.

According to the report, there are over 150 Korean guides working in the Island now many of them are tourists at the first time but decided to stay in Boracay longer. To sustain their expenses they have to work as a guide.

In the past, our local guides could earn up to PHP 30,000 per month  but with the influx of Korean guides, they are earning average of PHP 10,000 more or less whilst Korean guide could earn up to PHP 100,000 depending on the season and number of groups they assist. Big bucks right?

As a Filipino and a professional working in the travel industry I am very worried of these recent developments. Surely more tourists would mean added revenue to our country’s coffers. It would also attract more investors.

However, progress in our tourism should benefit Filipinos as a priority. There is no better host that could describe the real “Boracay” or even “Philippine” experience than a local despite the language barrier. Sadly, I don’t think our laws could regulate the number of foreign guides in the country at the moment.

I verified on the case of Tour guides in Thailand as I thought many of the tour guides serving in popular tourist attractions are locals but fluently speaking in a foreign language. I’ve been to touristy places like Royal Grand Palace, Wat Po, Pattaya or Phuket beaches and often times I would hear a Thai guide explaining to a group of tourist about the place either in French, German, Russian, Chinese, etc. I would always get amazed by how Thailand was able to maximize their tourism work force and even enhance the skills of the people in order to get the opportunities of their tourism boom. Of course once in a while some overseas companies would secretly hire the service of the guide from that country but the Government also protects the welfare of the Thai guides with regulations on foreign workers.

In our country’s case, regulating these foreign workers would also mean our tour guide must enhance their skills and learn how to speak a foreign language apart from English in order to compete. I believe it’s not hard as many Filipinos could learn a foreign language easily due to our common adaptability.

It is inevitable for our tourism to boom. I’ve been reading a lot of positive news about many hotels opening in the next few years and various efforts of public and private sector to lure overseas tourists and investors recently.

Apart from suggestions to improve the country’s infrastructure which is long overdue, we also have to consider the workforce if they are able to address the demands of the job.

The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) will be in effect by 2015. We could expect more ASEAN friends to influx our country either for leisure or employment. We have to be prepared as early as now.

Advertisements

Pumasyal sa Pilipinas kahit puno na ang Jeep…

Many Tourism promotions always highlight that the Philippines has 7,107 islands…Too many islands to explore right? But the million peso question is “Where are all the Tourist gone?”  According to a tourism report, tourist arrival grew to 5.2 million. This is actually a positive sign if compared to the past years but I believe this figure includes Balikbayans or Overseas Filipinos visiting Philippines for Holidays. So even with the positive figure, why does it sound like I am whining?

Thailand enjoys over 14 Million visitors a year, Singapore in March alone enjoyed a brisk arrival of 928,000 and projects tourist arrival to 12.5 million at the end of this year especially with the opening of new Integrated resorts like Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands. Malaysia tops the list of SEA countries in terms of visitor’s arrival at about 21.5 Million in 2009.

Figures don’t  lie ayt?

Why am I highlighting these facts? Simply because the Philippines has all the factors to be the Tourism Haven in Southeast Asia (perhaps even whole Asia).

1.) We are the 2nd largest English-speaking nation in Asia (2nd to India). Everywhere you go even on the boondocks, locals can more or less communicate or understand English. Very Tourist friendly. In Thailand, some of those working in the hotels or restaurants cannot converse fluently in English. But Tourist still flock.

2.) We have the Sun, Sea, Sand and smiles. Activities and attractions are endless. Boracay still remains a big draw to tourist with its talcum powder-like sand and party atmosphere all day and night. Palawan is simply the best and so is Bohol, and Batanes, and Camiguin and Cebu and Davao..the list goes on and on.

3.) We are a melting pot of cultures. It’s true some countries have very strong and easily recognizable culture and heritage like that of China, India, Japan, Thailand. However our uniqueness lies on so many cultures and traditions to explore and experience at such a smaller place than the former mentioned places.

4.) We have several of the biggest shopping malls in the World. The newly renovated SM City North EDSA is the 3rd biggest mall in the world. SM Mall of Asia, SM Megamall and many others are also included in the biggest mall list.  Why simply can’t we be the Shopping Haven of Asia? Why are so many Pinoy businessmen into retail business buy clothes and accessories in Bangkok, Hong Kong or mainland China?

5.) Our country has the geographic advantage.  We are in the heart of Asia and the Pacific. Easily accessible to the rest of the world.

On the other hand, there are also critical reasons why we do not get the numbers that we want:

1.) Lack of infrastructure- our Airports and sea ports cannot compete with our neighbors. Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Incheon Airports are highly recognized for efficient service, cleanliness and all the awards you can think of. Not to mention the size of these airport are simply humongous. Our road network also needs face lift. Few years ago, I was on the way to the Underground River in Puerto Princesa. The scenery is simply breath taking if not out of this world. Imagine a river traversing under a mountain and tourist is underneath this mountain for about 45 minutes going in and another 45 minutes going out. Really awesome. But to reach that spot, you have to travel by land for about 2 hours from the city and an hour of which is on a very bumpy road. The tour guide would always joke it is a natural body massage cos you are literally shaken and twisted by the rough road. Even thousands of tourist flock the Underground River, the road badly needs cementing or even asphalt for many years now.

Our public transport like MRT, LRT and even Bus or Jeepney transport are not tourist friendly. Either it is too crowded, or needs to be pulled to the garage especially a lot of public Buses and taxis.

2.) Lack of Promotion. Some months ago, I was dining in a Seafood Restaurant in Bangkok with a friend and beside our table are a couple of Hong Kong citizens. We tried to be friendly and asked if it is their first time in Bangkok and what is the purpose of their trip. We were surprised on their answer. They said it was not their first time and the purpose of their trip is just to eat Seafoods! WTF! Eating seafoods but you have to spend on airfare, hotel and travel 3 hours? But it is understandable because seafood in Hong Kong is very expensive. They can enjoy seafood dinner ever day or night while they are in Bangkok but the price is nothing compared to having just one full seafood meal in their country. And Thailand is actually earning a lot on Culinary Tourism. Cooking schools in Chiang Mai are very popular. Thai cuisine has been one of the factors why tourist visit this country.

Malaysia is very good in their PR campaigns to promote their tourist spots. Every time I meet a foreigner and I told them I am from Philippines or Manila, they usually ask me, what can you do in Manila or Philippines? Is Manila in an Island or near the beach? Many other questions. It is due to the fact that our Tourism related campaign is either insufficient or lacking of magnets to lure the tourists.

3.) Traveling in the Philippines is expensive. It is good now that Cebu Pacific has started the trend of budget airfare across the country which paved the way for the healthy growth of Domestic Tourism. Hotel accommodations in tourist spots in the Philippines are very expensive and so are foods and souvenirs in these areas. Going back to my story earlier about the couple traveling to Bangkok just to eat, I believe many of our fresh sea foods are being exported to Hong Kong, Japan, China and nearby countries wherein the prices if served on the table are triple or quadruple than the local price before being sent overseas. If we can only find a way for these seafoods or even fruits to be enjoyed here in the Philippines and no need to be sent for export, not only will the prices be cheaper but everyone will be able to enjoy (tourist and locals alike). If tourist go to the Philippines, airlines will be full, hotels will be occupied, restaurants can cook. Many establishments will benefit.

There are many more advantage and disadvantages. Maybe my blog is not enough. However, I still believe our country is great and we can show it to the world. The Aquino administration is coming in and there was a recent controversy about a rumor that President-elect Noynoy Aquino is considering Talent Manager, Boy Abunda to become the next Department of Tourism Secretary which got some nods and some flak from supporters and critics alike. But come to think of it, why not put former DOT Secretary Richard Gordon in this post again? Not so familiar if the law would allow it, but if this is possible then he is the best man for this post since he is outgoing Senator anyway and I believe he performed well during his stint in the DOT or even at Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. Btw, He was my Presidential bet. Unfortunately, he lost.

Tourism is very important. Tourism creates business. Tourism brings money to our coffers and contributes to our GDP. I just wish the time would come that tourist arrivals will full our sights to the rafters similar to the picture above..and so us OFW will not have to work abroad cos many jobs are waiting for us.

So bring in the millions (of tourists).  🙂

Where is the Best Holy Week (or Summer) Hideaway?

Holy Week is almost 2 weeks away. I heard there are many resort destinations that still have vacant rooms for Holy Week. This is really strange considering that traditionally, Lenten Season is a super super super PEAK season even before our generation was born. The Global Economic Recession is really pinching its way to all sectors of the society and Tourism is the most volatile of them all.

Anyway, for the Sun, Sand and Sea lovers- Holy Week is the best time to relax and do some rest and recreation. Going to the Beach and stuff doesn’t mean we forget the essence of the Lenten Season which is commemorating our Savior Jesus Christ’s ultimate sacrifice to die on the cross to redeem us from all our sins.  I would like to think that this season (being a Long Holiday) is the best time to reflect, spend precious time with loved ones and repair or take back some broken or lost relationships.

Now the question is, Where is the Best Holy Week (or Summer) Hideaway? I’ve made some random choices for you to select. Once you select the best destination, share to us why you consider it on top of the list.

Hope you will have a memorable Holy Week this year!