By Ernie Reyes | InterAksyon
MANILA – While he praised the efforts of the Department of Tourism, Senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., on Thursday asked President Aquino to make the country an even more tourist-friendly destination.
"The Philippine government should spearhead efforts for tourism industry players and stakeholders to get their act together and entice more tourists to visit the country, Marcos told journalists at the Bulong Pulungan media forum at Hotel Sofitel.
Marcos was asked, hypothetically, about what he would do to further improve the tourism industry if elected President in 2016.
"The tourism industry should be a more important and larger part of our economy," Marcos said, noting that an average of 4.5 million international tourists arrive in the country annually, a far cry from the Department of Tourism's target of 10 million arrivals in 2016.
While he acknowledged that DOT is doing a good job promoting the country abroad as a tourism destination, Marcos said a lot more still has to be done to make the country a more attractive destination of for international tourists.
"We have to do our part. We have to make the tourism sites more accessible, we have to make the systems better: the peace and order, the safety and security of the tourists, and the facilities, like more hotels, airports – all of these things need to be done," Marcos said.
Marcos recalled that a few years ago, an Italian friend said he would prefer to travel to Thailand than to the Philippines because Thailand was much cheaper for tourists to visit.
"I asked how can it be expensive? The Philippines is cheap. He said, 'in Thailand, I pay 1,000 dollars, all in, hotel, tour, food, everything, I don't have to think about it anymore."
In contrast, Marcos said, his Italian friend complained that when he comes to the Philippines, he has to find a hotel on his own, find a driver, get a tour guide, and even make his own research for the best places to go.
"We don't make it easy for them. They are on a holiday, they don't want to be bothered about those things," Marcos said.
He recalled that, during his stint as Ilocos Norte Governor, the local government realized that they had to create choirs, bands, and dance troupes to provide entertainment for tourists who visited the province.
"Something as simple as that still needs to be attended to, even things like food. Tourists, depending on where they come from, like to try the local stuff. Eventually, they want to have their own food as well. These are the little things that need to be attended to that we seem to have ignored," he said.
If the Philippines learns from Thailand's tourism industry, it can easily hit its target of 10 million foreign tourist arrivals annually, according to Marcos.
"The Thais have done a great job. We don't need to reinvent the wheel; we just follow their example and try to pick up the good lessons from them," he added.
"It's just a question of putting the systems in to make it easy for tourists to come. That means we have to organize our travel agents better, improve the actual services that are being provided," he said.
Marcos stressed that increased foreign tourist arrivals would spur tourism-related business and generate more jobs.
A report of the World Travel and Tourism Council said that the Philippine travel and tourism sector contributed a total of P1.4 trillion to the local economy in 2014.