THE Pacific Asia Travel Association (Pata) Travel Mart 2012 was officially opened Wednesday at the SMX Convention Center with close to a thousand international and local participants composed of buyers, sellers, media representatives and members of National Tourism Organizations from 52 countries.
At the opening media briefing, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. presented the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP), the country's roadmap for tourism development, which aims to position the Philippines as a must-experience destination in Asia.
The NTDP seeks to achieve 10 million international visitor arrivals, employ 6.8 million workers in the tourism sector, and generate P1.9 trillion in tourism receipts by 2016. Tourism development will be propelled through the convergence among government agencies, local government units, legislators, private companies and non-profit organizations.
Secretary Jimenez was joined by Tourism Assistant Secretary Benito Bengzon Jr. who talked about potential cruise tourism.
"The good news is that the number of cruise passengers to the Philippines has been growing over the last several years as a result of the overall interest in Southeast Asia as the newest and most exciting cruise playground. Ten to 15 years back, it was almost unthinkable for big vessels with the capacities of 3,000-3,500 people to be home ported in any of the ports here. Singapore is now a default homeport, and the Philippines has been able to get a fair share of the cruise passenger traffic. In fact by October this year, Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas will be calling on the port of Boracay," Assistant Secretary Bengzon said.
Pata vice chairperson Paul Antonson said that "tourism should be given focus as it is the most inclusive sector."
On the other hand, Pata CEO Martin J. Craigs underscored the role of technology - the need to be electronic and mobile - in the development of tourism. He also raised the importance of improving policy reforms to address issues on accessibility and connectivity.
When asked about the Philippine travel tax by the media, Jimenez said that tax proceeds are divided among the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (Tieza), the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), and the Commission on Higher Education (Ched) for use in government projects and programs.
The DOT, however, remains supportive of the efforts to make the Philippines more competitive such as the eventual removal of the travel tax in support of the Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area (BIMP-Eaga) sub-regional cooperation initiative.
Jimenez also clarified as to why the Philippines has a small international visitor arrivals figure relative to other countries in Asean such as Malaysia and Thailand. He said that the Philippines does not enjoy a connection of contiguous land mass where a foreign national can simply drive across a border and be counted among the international arrivals.
"Tourism is not just a game of counting people coming out of airplanes, of people setting foot on your tarmac. What is more important is to build a business that creates opportunities and yields revenues. On a revenue level, the Philippines is up to speed with the rest of Asean," Secretary Jimenez said.