Filipino Hospitality Beyond Borders: Sen. Bongbong’s speech at the 5th National Young Hoteliers & Restaurateurs Power Conference

27 August 2014

Thank you for having invited me to this gathering and please allow me to take this opportunity to congratulate all those involved in staging this 5th installment of the National Young Hoteliers and Restaurateurs Power Conference, wherein you have assigned to me the daunting task of speaking about “Filipino Hospitality Beyond Borders”.

And what a formidable task it really is! After some research and reflection on today’s theme, I want to share with you my thoughts on this subject as your elected legislator and as an economist. And considering the issues that we shall talk about in this forum, we realize how important this kind of event is not only to the participants and to the industry and its stakeholders, but to our entire nation as well! Because no other segment of our society is able to better appreciate and relate to the current issues confronting our beloved hotel and restaurant industry than our youth, especially our students who are toiling hard to be part of it in their future careers, as well as the budding entrepreneurs and employees in this very important hospitality industry.

Perhaps I may not know, but it may have been clearly settled and repeatedly discussed in the previous installments of this Power Conference about the inextricable link between the hotel and restaurant industry to our nation’s tourism. Truth be told, whether we like it or not, our hotel and restaurant industry is indispensable to our tourism. In fact, a CNN article has considered restaurants as a country’s “frontline ambassadors” in promoting the country and educating the foreigners about the country’s culture, via our cuisine and hospitality services.

And rightly so. It is self-evident as it is self-explanatory. Saan nga naman matutulog at kakain ang ating mga turista, kundi sa ating mga hotels, mga inns, apartelles, restaurants, eateries, karinderias, at iba pang mga katulad na establisimyento?

Alangan naman na isipin natin na ang lakad ng ating mga bisita ay balikan lamang o daytrip. ‘Di naman natin masabi na walang tulugan o walang kainan ang pagpunta nila sa bayan natin! Tila nakakapagod naman yata na lakad o bakasyon iyon! At kung ganoon lamang, matatawag ba natin na tunay na BAKASYON iyon?! The point is, whether the travel be a short leisure trip or a business trip, our tourists and visitors heavily rely on the indispensable services provided by our hotel and restaurant industry.

This past year, 2013, it was recorded that there had been almost 4.6 million international tourist arrivals in the Philippines. Mind you, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (WTO) has qualified and referred the term “international tourist arrivals” to mean tourists who have stayed at least overnight in the country or place visited. So, siguradong may mga bisita tayong nag-check-in sa ating mga hotels at kumain sa ating mga restaurants na higit pa sa isang araw!

Hindi naman siguro lahat sila ay may kakilala, kaibigan o kapamilya na taga-rito kung saan sila ay pwedeng makitulog o makikain sa kanilang mga tahanan. O pwede rin nating sabihin na wala naman siguro sa kanila ang natulog lamang sa daan sa Kamaynilaan—kundi ay baka nahuli lamang sila dahil sa vagrancy!

It is reported that the revenues from our international tourist arrivals amounted to a hefty 4.6 billion US dollars! By a simple mathematical calculation, lumalabas na nagpasok ng 1,000 US dollars o 43,000 Philippine pesos ang bawat isa sa ating mga naging international tourist noong nakalipas na taon. At sa datos ng ating gobyerno, para sa taong 2012, 29% ng gastos ng mga turista ay napunta sa accommodation, at 26% naman ng kanilang gastos ay napunta sa pagkain at inumin. That totals 55% of their spending for accommodation, food and beverages!

Kaya naman inaasahan natin na malaki ang kontribusyon ng ating turismo sa ating ekonomiya. In short, much is expected of our tourism sector!

On the average, the total contribution of tourism to our gross domestic product (GDP) has been consistently high. Our international tourist arrivals posted an almost 10% increase from the previous year 2012 of 4.2 million visitors. In fact, in the first quarter of 2013, the Philippines was dubbed by the World Economic Forum as a “Rising Star” in world travel and tourism, when it skyrocketed 12 places upward in the world competitive index in travel and tourism.

Our ranking in 2012 was 84th out of 140 countries. For 2013, we climbed up 2 notches to 82nd place.

Isa lamang ang pumasok na Southeast Asian country sa Top 10 ng pinakamataas na dami ng turista at laki ng kinita sa turismo—at hindi tayo iyon! Ito ay ang mga bansang Thailand!

We cannot help but wonder what is it that Thailand has that we don’t that makes it a global powerhouse in international tourism?

However, just because we were not able to land in the Top 10, it doesn’t mean that we are doing that bad. Siguro natural lang na tayo ay mainggit sa ating kapitbahay sa ASEAN na nakikita natin na umaasenso at gumaganda ang kanilang buhay.

It is a long way up for us in the world rankings; and if we want to do it sooner, it is going to be a very steep climb. Our growth should not only be continuous and consistent, but it should be characterized by a marked improvement.

The good news is that we are showing strong signs of growth, based on our year-to-year performance. The upward trend in our performance just proves that we have so much untapped potential. And we see that! And we should do something about that.

Our Department of Tourism (DOT) has engaged in aggressive tourism marketing, in our attempt to achieve the elusive target of 5.5 million international tourist arrivals, which unfortunately we have failed to achieve last year, despite our slogan, “It is more fun in the Philippines!”

The question is: Are we ready for the upsurge in our international tourist arrivals? Do we have the capacity and ability to absorb the increase in terms of facilities and skilled manpower, should this phenomenon happen this year? Are we ready to accommodate and efficiently attend to them even at the same volume as in the previous year?

Siyempre, huwag din nating kalilimutan ang ating mga domestic tourists o ang mga bisita at mga turista na galing mismo sa iba’t ibang lugar sa ating bansa. According to the National Statistics Office, there were 25 million domestic tourists in 2012, with ages 15 years and up, with each local tourist spending from P1,500 up to P12,000 in the place visited.

Which is why I consider to be most useful and essential that a youth assembly such as this Power Conference be held regularly, involving our young hoteliers and restaurateurs as well as our hotel and restaurant management students. It can definitely be an appropriate forum for the stakeholders in the industry to be informed about the relevant and pressing issues confronting and challenging the sector and industry.

Let us now focus on the hotel and restaurant sector, and go back to the data that almost 55% of the spending of our international tourists are channeled into the hotel and restaurant industry, and the potential contribution of our own local tourists as well. Of course, we realize the crucial importance of the patronage of our customers, both local and international, to the survival of this very important sector of the economy and to the economic development of our country. Our tourism industry as a whole should always bear in mind and take advantage of this actual recorded data on the volume of tourist arrivals and the spending behavior of our tourists, whether foreign or local.

Perhaps an analysis of the sufficiency and reliability of the overall infrastructures that support our tourism sector and our hotel and restaurant industry, including communications and transport infrastructure, may be considered too complex and overwhelming for our young people to understand, so that it could also best be discussed in a separate forum of a higher level, involving our investors and government officials and other stakeholders.

However, let me just inform you that according to data from the World Economic Forum, our overall tourism infrastructure is in dire need of large-scale improvement and development. The state of our airport infrastructure, so as our total number of hotel rooms, ranks so poorly in accordance with global standards.

Even on the areas of availability of qualified and skilled labor and extent of training of our overall tourism workforce, the Philippines also ranks poorly based on these indicators. Perhaps our “brain drain” or the emigration of our workforce partly accounts for this dismal showing.

On the level of employment projection, our Department of Labor and Employment tags the hotel and restaurant sector as among the 13 Key Employment Generators in the Philippines for the period of 2011 to 2020, ranking 5th overall.

And we see that our academe has responded by recognizing the employment promotion and the expected employment demand of this sector. Our hotel and restaurant management and culinary arts courses have become hot favorites among our studentry, to the point that our Department of Education has made the observation that they may already be oversubscribed! In fact, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has stopped promoting these courses to our high school students in order to prevent an oversupply of this sectoral workforce in the coming years, likewise to possibly avoid the recurrence of the problem that we have had when our country had produced an oversupply of nurses.

Because of our world renown as a very hospitable people, it has been observed by scholars that the Philippines excels in the service sector, which also embraces the hotel and restaurant industry. And this can be perceived on both the international and local levels. On the local level, the service sector has outpaced our agricultural and manufacturing sectors in the past years. On the international scene, the employability and economic potential of our OFWs have been proven in the service sector. Then, we have our tourism sector also, which is very much service-oriented. Sabi nila, this is because of our large and educated workforce with its remarkable English proficiency and adaptability to other cultures.

More importantly, as confirmed by sociologists, and this is very relevant to the hotel and restaurant industry, it has become believed here and abroad that Filipinos are a hospitable, friendly and compassionate people. And the observation is very well reflected in our ranking in the 2013 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index of the World Economic Forum. It is very heartening to find out that we rank very high with respect to our very friendly “attitude towards foreign visitors” and in the “degree of customer orientation”.

Given our cultural and sociological traits and recognized characteristics as Filipinos, we know that we have the natural human capabilities and potential to improve and excel in our tourism sector, particularly in our hotel and restaurant industry.

Paano pa kung pagagandahin pa natin ang ating imprastraktura na kaugnay sa turismo, ang ating transportation facilities at airports, mga daan, at iba pa, e di talagang magiging mas maganda at mas malakas pa ang kabuuan ng ating turismo at ang pag-unlad ng ating ekonomiya?!

Ang punto ko, bilang mga Pilipino, dapat nating patunayan ang ating lakas at galing sa larangan ng serbisyo. We know that our infrastructure development will always remain an uphill challenge for us, in view of our scarce and limited financial resources. But our natural and world-renowned hospitality, friendliness and compassion that breed into our Filipino brand of service do not entail billions of investments. We don't have to dig deep into our pockets, but just reach into our hearts for our innate beauty as a Filipino people as demonstrated by our highly respected Filipino culture, values and traditions.

However, service is not confined to hospitality and friendliness alone. It takes a whole gamut of hardwork, quality control, and a host of other important aspects relevant to a total satisfactory customer service experience.

We have to address this so-called “problem” of negative perception and lack of awareness of the Philippines as a tourism destination, which has been blamed by our Department of Tourism as the reason for the less-than-stellar growth of our tourism sector. And the Department of Tourism goes on further to say that the solution to this problem is to create “awareness” of the Philippines as a tourism brand. It this why we coined the slogan “It’s more fun in the Philippines.”?

From our level—the level of hotel and restaurant management, direct customer relations and overall quality of service—our young hoteliers and restaurateurs can very well make a difference in addressing this “perception” and awareness problems.

It leads us to recognize the importance of marketing and promotion, especially through the website and our online presence or our “existence” in the internet, which has become even more effective and cost-effective nowadays than the traditional marketing tools. We now have to recognize that potential tourists of today are scouring the internet for information about a trip being planned, not only the tourist attraction itself, but the incidental and indispensable information such as available and recommended hotels to stay and restaurants to dine in.

When the internet first became popular, the expression used to be, “If it is not in the internet, it does not exist.”

Then, it evolved to, “If you’re not in Google, you do not exist.”

Tapos, naging, “If you’re not ‘number 1’ in Google, you do not exist.”

Ngayon, iba na: “If you’re not on FB or Twitter or Instagram, you do not exist!”

And it has become even more complicated nowadays. While you’re at it, kailangan palagi n’yo ring gawing “trending” at “viral” ang inyong hotels at restaurants. And by “trending” and “viral”, I mean it in a good and positive way, and not in a bad and negative way.

Moreover, we have to be aware of the instant feedback system that has been made possible by our online booking websites and social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like. So, dapat, aside from being “trending” or “viral” in the internet, we always have to aim for that enviable “5-star positive feedback” or that heartwarming and business-attracting positive customer reviews.

And what is even scarier is the recent social experiment proving that information about bad customer experiences tend to travel faster than the good ones in the internet. According to the study, 1 out of every 4 customers or 25% would tend to spread word about a bad customer experience. And we know that the internet and social media have become very convenient yet effective sounding board with regard to the personal experiences of our tourists. So combining these two phenomena, we now have what is known as “Mad-vocacy” in the internet.

A simple appreciation of this statistical data would tell us that we should always try our darnedest best to avoid displeasing our customers, more rather than trying real hard to please them.

This also points to us to always be on our toes. On the one hand, just a few weeks ago, we read about a food columnist of the New York Times prefacing her feature story with the lines: “This is sisig, the greatest pork hash — arguably greatest pork dish — on earth.”

We also have heard former President George W. Bush raving a few years ago about the delectable fried pork rinds or “chicharon” prepared by our kababayan Cristeta Pasia Comerford, who is the White House Executive Chef.

On the other hand, we also read from a CNN feature article in 2012 the brutally frank views of a longtime immigrant about life in the Philippines. Speaking about Filipino food, he says:

“Philippine food is an acquired taste, and one I haven’t acquired it in nearly 25 years.”
“The food sucks, and it’s not that healthy.”
Others say that our dishes are “relatively mundane”, meaning masyadong simple at walang excitement, at masyado raw “fast food” ang itsura.
While we may agree with them about food possibly being an “acquired taste”, we may rise up in arms against the statements about the taste of our Filipino food. Sabi nga ng Department of Tourism, “Filipino food is not uncompetitive; it is just undiscovered.”

Well, as for me, I do not subscribe to the views of some foreigners about the taste of Filipino food. Naniniwala ako na napakamalas lamang ng mga dayuhan na ito dahil masama ang kanilang panlasa, kaya naman sa loob ng mahabang panahon, puro lamang hindi masarap ang kanilang mga nakakain!

We should be challenged by this, rather than be annoyed and defensive. We should be spurred to be more innovative and creative in reinventing and improving the taste and presentation of our Filipino dishes. Considering the popularity of culinary arts in the Philippines, let us look forward to a resurgence and a renaissance in the preparation and presentation of our traditional Filipino dishes.

In summary, we always have to be mindful of creating a total satisfactory customer experience. And in so doing, we have to diligently keep in mind each and every issue and concern that is most relevant and important to the customer. Aside from the usual and day-to-day concerns of typical hotel and restaurant customer service, we now have to put equal or even greater emphasis on the safety and security of our guests! Again, bearing in mind this issue of negative perception of the Philippines. And considering most recent events, “safety” of guests now embraces safety from environmental risks and hazards, bringing to the fore the strength and resilience of our hotel and restaurant physical structures and concomitant infrastructure, not to mention concerns of security, peace and order!

To end, let us aim to focus on our strengths and to address the concerns that are readily within our abilities and competence to improve and strengthen. Pagandahin pa natin lalo ang ating serbisyo at ang ating pakikitungo sa ating mga customers. Bilang mga Pilipino, dito tayo magaling at dito tayo nakilala sa buong mundo. Habang ginagawa natin ito, pasarapin din natin lalo ang ating mga putaheng Pinoy, upang ito ay tunay na maging world-class tulad ng ating serbisyo at pagiging mapagkaibigan.

Ladies and Gentlemen, perhaps I have said enough this afternoon to hopefully provoke the minds and creativity of our young members of the hotel and restaurant industry. Hahabol pa po ako sa aming session sa Senado sa hapon na ito. Kaya hanggang dito na lamang po. Uulitin ko, tunay na isang malaking karangalan para sa akin na makasama ko kayong lahat sa hapong ito!

Mabuhay ang aking mahal na De La Salle University, at ang mga mag-aaral ng Hotel and Restaurant Mangement course ng De La Salle University-Dasmariñas!

Mabuhay ang National Young Hoteliers and Restaurateurs Power Conference!

Mabuhay ang hotel and restaurant industry at ang turismo ng Pilipinas! Despite all that have been said, truly, it is still more fun in the Philippines!

Maraming, maraming salamat po!

Muli po, magandang hapon sa inyong lahat!