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

The fury of Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana)

I am sure by now many of us already know what happened to Metro Manila and nearby areas on the fateful day of 26 September 2009. Typhoon Ondoy (International Name: Ketsana) claimed the lives of over 200 people (and counting) because of torrential rains said to have produced a month’s worth of rainfall in just 6 hours. Typhoons and tropical depressions are common in the Philippine islands because of its geographical location which is within the typhoon and earthquake belt so a typical Typhoon like Ondoy should not cause too much of a panic compared to previous Super Typhoons and since Manila was declared to have only public storm signal no. 1 (the lowest typhoon warning).

The rain poured heavily and non-stop most of the day last Saturday. By noon, many areas are already flooded. Few hours more, the waters are getting higher and many areas which have not experienced flooding ever saw nature’s fury on that day. Metro Manila and Rizal province was literally a water world so to speak.

My family has been living in Marikina for almost 3 decades now. The city became popular in several occasions: 1.) It always hugs the news whenever heavy rains or strong storm pass by the country due to the fact that the city is actually located in a Valley being surrounded by higher areas like Quezon City, Antipolo, Cainta, San Mateo 2.) There was a fear amongst all residents when many years ago experts says Marikina is sitting in a major earthquake fault line so there is a big chance a major earthquake will struck anytime in this area and so many property owners try to sell their house or lot out of these fear. 3.) There were several cases of rape+homicide of pretty ladies which made Marikina look like a dangerous place to live in. Seems Marikina has full of bad publicity because of natural or human threat.

On the contrary, these news were wiped out because…3.) Marikina has been a role-model amongst cities in the Metro and the whole Philippines by winning many awards for the clean & green, river restoration, zoning projects and efficient crime prevention by the local government. Marikina become an ideal place to live. The city is almost always in competition with Puerto Princesa City, Palawan which also boasts of natural beauty and efficiency in local governance. Marikina was even dubbed the “Singapore of Philippines” because of its cleanliness and orderliness which has been a source of pride to all of us Marikenos.

And once again, Marikina my beloved city hit the news big time. It is really sad if not heart-breaking to see the news and videos of the extensive destruction to life and property that Typhoon Ondoy brought us. Marikina River suddenly looked like a sea because it swell so big. Provident Village a semi-exclusive village located near the banks of the river I believe has the most casualties in terms of lives and properties.

Our Home in Marikina which was lovingly and painstakingly built and maintained by my parents  since 1982 is now a disaster. Sure, the structure is still there but all the appliances, furniture, clothes and important documents are all wet and covered with mud and unfortunately cannot be of any use at this point. Our village has not experienced heavy flooding for many years now due to the improvement in drainage system and prompt garbage collection. As far as I know, the heaviest flooding we encountered has only reached the front of our gates (which is equivalent to waist deep water already) and never hit our garage, much more inside our house. But on Saturday, the water just flowed relentlessly into our humble abode and in the process tumbling big appliances and furniture. Our car was stucked in the road as well and submerged in flood water because according to my Mom, they just went to the wet market to buy the usual weekly food stock and are unable to go back home because the flood rose very fast and there was heavy traffic on the way back home. To put it in detail, they got wet more than they’ve expected.

Above all of these things that happened, I thank God so much because the destruction is only on our property, not lives of any member of my family or relatives. Surely, it will be very tough for us cos we have to start building our lives all over again but we can rebuild it as a family. What will be more difficult and unbearable is the thought of losing someone that way and totally unprepared. I was so anxious Saturday and Sunday after I learned about the disaster since I cannot contact anyone from my family or relatives through mobile phone or landline and at that point, I am clueless as to my family’s situation. I am just so glad to have finally contacted them yesterday and talked to them lengthy on phone.

I was watching various YouTube videos as well as news clip from GMA News and ABS-CBN and I really can’t help but feel very sorrowful on different experiences of people who had been to that tough situation.

One woman was crying her heart out because she lost several relatives including children. One of her family members tried helping others but at the end lost his own life. The lady said yes it is good to know the person did not die in vain and even became a hero because of saving other lives but it will be very difficult for them to accept the sudden death. Moreover, when they tried asking for help, no one can help them because of the extreme weather condition. This cost the death of 2 children who could have become an inspiring president or an excellent doctor in the future but have gone too soon.

Another man who is a company messenger cannot help but cry because he saw the Desktop computer he gave his child as a gift being destroyed by the flood. He said it took him very long time to purchase the computer even have to loan the money to buy but now the equipment is just a piece of garbage. One good thing I saw in him is his positive outlook that despite all their properties are lost and he admit nothing he can do anymore because it happened so soon, he still has faith in God and he believe it will all come to pass.

(To Apollo, you can see the video of the Man and the child whose computer was broken in this link sorry, dunno how to upload video not coming from YouTube in my blog. Hope you will find a way to donate a computer to them as you have intended. God bless you) : http://www.gmanews.tv/video/48395/after-floods-residents-now-deal-with-muds-in-metro-manila-nearby-provinces

Indeed at this time, all we can do is Help and Pray. Help all victims anyway we can through donations or whatever support we can extend. More importantly we need to pray. Pray for God’s mercy… Pray that it will not happen again… Pray that the human casualties will no longer increase… Pray for the salvation of the lives that were lost..Pray for healing of memories of all people who had gone through this bad experience.

I was told by my Mom that my young niece and nephew seemed traumatized by the incident. When they saw the flood going inside their home last Saturday, they cried and embraced their Dad (my brother) tightly for comfort. Then the next day when it started to rain again, they told my brother that they are scared cos it’s raining again…I really hope they will forget this harrowing experience very fast.

God bless my family and loved ones.. God Bless the Philippines.

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!