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).  🙂

Advertisements

Singapore sojourn

Exactly 1 week ago, I went alone to Singapore for Holiday. It has been over 3 years that I not visited Singapore and many things has changed since I last visited though what remains constant is Singapore’s clean surroundings and lush greens all over. It is such a refreshing respite considering it is a very modern city and not a beach destination. I took the AirAsia flight. It is my first time to travel via AirAsia and I have to admit that it has been a generally pleasant and safe journey. Flight is on time, staff are friendly. No wonder it is such a big hit in Southeast Asia. I arrived in Changi Airport about 3PM Singapore Time. After the long queue at the Immigration counter, I started my “exploration” of the city as a Free and Easy Tourist. It was quite late and the first meal I took was just a bowl of Oatmeal for breakfast. At that point, my tummy is rumbling and I had a slight migraine. Since I want some adventure, I did not exit to the nearest Taxi stand for convenience. Instead, I asked where the MRT station is. The lady at the information counter gladly instructed me how to reach the other terminal where the MRT Changi Airport Station is located. MRT in Singapore is a bit more complicated than in Bangkok as there are several lines. I carefully screened the map to check where I need to drop off. My friend Gly informed me I had to drop at City Hall, transfer to the other line and drop at Dhoby Ghaut station. From there, I can walk to my hotel.

The MRT ride is a bit slower than taking the taxi cos there are many stops and since I need to transfer it took more time. However, the ride is good. I get to see more of Singapore and the normal people’s way of life as well as get a lot of savings. My fare from airport to Dhoby Ghaut is less than SGD 3.00. Had I taken the taxi, maybe it will cost me about SGD 15-20. I checked-in at Hotel Rendezvous, a nice 4-Star Hotel with a very convenient location. The reception staff was very professional and helpful. Only thing is there is no luggage porter to help you go up to your room. Fortunately, I only have a light luggage. I was given a Junior Suite which is 1 category higher than the one I booked so I’m quite impressed with the arrangement. However, my happiness is a bit short lived when I realized the hotel does not provide complimentary drinking water. I have traveled in many places and stayed in many hotels and it is a basic free amenity in all the hotels I stayed. Later, my friend informed me maybe because water is so expensive in Singapore the reason why they charge the bottle of water in the room. To think the only available bottled water in my room is Evian which is way too expensive!

Since it was already 5PM my tummy is really complaining like crazy. Fortunately, just across the hotel, there is a hawker called Kopitian. I bought the Chicken Rice Meal because many people say the best Chicken Rice is in Singapore. However, after tasting I feel the chicken rice I usually buy in the streets of Bangkok are better. Or maybe because I did not try the Chicken Rice of the restaurant specializing in this food. After my very late lunch..I met my former colleagues and friend in Orchard Road and we have few bottles of beer, Chicken and Pizza, we headed to eat some desserts after dinner courtesy of Roel and Gly. I am so lucky they even game me some cheesecakes for take-away to the hotel.

Next day, Me, Mel (my long time friend since University time) and Boni my other good friend residing and working in SG went to Singapore Zoo. We were supposed to go to Sentosa but since Mel has an afternoon class (she is studying in Singapore), it is not convenient to go to Sentosa and stay there for 1 hour only considering the traffic was quite bad that day. Singapore Zoo is pretty much similar to Night Safari (which I enjoyed the last time I was in Singapore) but since it is daytime, it tend to be really hot even if the zoo has a lot of trees.

My next stop was shopping in Orchard specifically Lucky Plaza. In here, you can buy perfumes at a cheaper price (cheaper than in Manila or Bangkok I think). I was able to buy 4 bottles of perfume and my friend gave me another bottle as Birthday gift. Later on, I got another bottle from my former colleagues. How lucky can I get ayt? After dinner in my friend Boni’s house (which btw I cooked the Beef Caldereta as special request), we went to Dempsey Hill, the new watering hole in Singapore gaining popularity. Then proceeded to Esplanade, Merlion along Marina Bay and Fullerton Hotel.

Next day, I went to Sentosa Island with Mel. Pity that Resorts World Sentosa is not fully operational. Universal Studio is still not open but only the hotels in the complex. We take pictures in Hard Rock Hotel Singapore and I bought a Souvenir Shirt. Personally, I think Hard Rock Hotel Pattaya is better and the staff livelier and friendlier. The whole time we were in Hard Rock Singapore, not even 1 staff greeted us which is totally opposite Hard Rock Pattaya where you can feel the warmth and hospitality of the staff.



Since I am meeting another friend in the afternoon, I had to cut short getting around Sentosa. And it is very hot anyway so to avoid the discomfort we decided to go back to the city centre. I had my Bak Kuh Teh for the 2nd time after our brief Sentosa Island trip. That night, we strolled along St. James Powerstation which is also a popular place with lots of bars and restaurants. This complex is near Vivo City, Singapore’s biggest shopping mall.


The next day, we had a short trip to Johor Bahru, the neighboring Malaysian city of Singapore. JB as it is popularly known is teeming with Singaporeans mostly going there to refuel their car or do some shopping. I tasted some Malaysian food and I can say it is good especially their local desserts. Then I was able to buy a pair of Sta. Barbara Polo and Racquet Club shoe which is half the price off. Around dinner time, I proceeded to the airport for my flight back to Bangkok which again was on time courtesy of Air Asia.

As I reached Bangkok, I felt I’m back to my 2nd home..same familiar roads, sights and sounds. However, I cannot deny that my last Singapore trip was great. Though I travel alone, I did not feel bored at all. I have many friends who took good care of me. They are very generous as they don’t mind paying for some of the bills and even sent me gifts or souvenirs. But most important of all, they really spend time (some even took leave from work) just to meet me. I guess when you have dome something good, there will definitely a payback later.