Turning the Philippines and Western Visayas into a Must-See Destination

Is is possible to convince 10 million tourists that indeed it’s more fun in the Philippines an Western Visayas?

The answer to this question would depend on the outcome of the three strategic directions that the Department of Tourism (DOT) will be pursuing until 2016, which is within the time frame of the Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016. The PDP identified tourism as a contributor toward the attainment of inclusive growth.

Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. identified these strategic directors at the recent Second Western Visayas Business Forum organized by University of Iloilo-PHINMA at Hotel del Rio here, namely, 1) developing products and destinations, 2) improving market access and connectivity and 3) improving and developing institutional capacities and human resources.

Jimenez, who is credited for the catchy “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” tourism promotion slogan, said the ultimate goal of these efforts is to transform the country into a must-experience destination in Asia and draw in 10 million tourist arrivals by 2016.

The pursuit of the strategic directions would help the country reach the goal, said Jimenez. And doing so, he added, should be everybody’s business, referring to a statement by President Aquino on the matter.

It needs the collaborative efforts of everyone, Jimenez said.

Western Visayas, for example, can contribute to the effort, Jimenez said, by further developing its natural and cultural and historical attractions that include Boracay Island off Malay, Aklan and Miag-ao Church, a Unesco-declared site in Miag-ao, Iloilo.

He also advised Ilonggos, in particular, to develop their urban-rural cultural attractions, like what the city government of Iloilo is now doing with its restoration project covering heritage commercial buildings, aside from other infrastructure or site developments.

Other provinces in the region also have their own tourist attractions worthy of tourists’ attention.

The DOT is also working out the connectivity of foreign credit cards in rural areas in anticipation of the influx of tourists who can use their credit cards in urban centers but not out of town.

In pushing for the third strategic direction, Ilonggos should enhance their capability to deliver varied services needed by tourists.

Hospitality, for which Ilonggos are famous for, should not stop at being polite and being nice, Jimenez said. It must be accompanied by good service, he said.

Regarding the Western Visayas region as a whole, Jimenez said making the region attractive to tourists is the easy part, but what local residents have to do is to make sure that the region deserves the attention the world won’t ignore.

He also challenged the private and business sectors to do their share in attaining the national and regional tourism goals.

He said the goal is to generate 10 million tourist arrivals in the country by 2016. Next year, it is hoped that the country would be midway toward attaining the target.

The key words in all of these collaborative efforts are building capacity and excellence, which Jimenez repeated thrice to emphasize their importance in pursuing the strategic directions for tourism in the country and for convincing tourists that, indeed, it’s more fun in the Philippines.

The recent business forum was organized by UI-PHINMA to present and discuss major economic issues where entrepreneurs can air their concerns and potentially develop and work on certain advocacies as a way of finding network of fellow entrepreneurs and of enterprise development and management institutions.

Jimenez was also in the area recently to grace the groundbreaking of the P450-million Iloilo Convention Center which will rise in a 1.7-hectare lot donated by Megaworld Corporation at the Old Iloilo Domestic Airport. The facility was conceived to also contribute to the country’s tourism industry.

The groundbreaking event came two weeks after the international flights to Hong Kong and Singapore started on Nov. 8 from the Iloilo Airport which boasts of international standards. (Jaime S. Cabag, Jr.-PIA6)

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