Tourism as a Key Pillar of Philippine Economic Growth
Written by Radka Okruhlanska
Last June 14, 2017, I attended the Tourism & Hospitality Committee Meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham). The invited speaker was Pocholo Paragas, chief operating officer of Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA).
TIEZA is a government agency created by virtue of Republic Act №9593, also known as “The Tourism Act of 2009”. It was established on May 12, 2009 to replace the Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA). TIEZA implements policies and programs of the Department of Tourism, particularly the development, promotion, and supervision of tourism projects in the Philippines. It also manages tourist facilities all over the country, especially areas with high cultural, historical, religious, heritage, and ecotourism values.
During his talk, Mr. Paragas focused on issues that are important for the growth of Philippine Tourism. First discussed was security. He shared that the current situation in Mindanao is not beneficial for tourism. On the other hand, since our country has more than 7000 islands, there will still be 7000 more islands to visit. He also shared an issue with accessibility. This is applicable to older people and persons with disability, especially those on wheelchairs. It is currently very complicated, if not impossible, to travel to many places, especially to smaller islands. We obviously can’t build 7000 airports, but sending ships to provide access to remote islands may be more feasible. The main commitment of Mr. Paragas is to develop a Tourism Master Plan — a strategic plan of tourism development for the whole country. He mentioned that the tourism sector had already seen 11.5 to 15% growth during the first three months of this year.
Mr. Paragas mentioned that there are five pillars that TIEZA wants to focus on for the short, medium, and long term. The first one is the renovation and innovation of travel tax centers. Each year, the agency collects around PHP 2 billion from travel tax, which it uses for infrastructure development all over the country.
Second, moving forward with the National Tourism Development Plan — a road map of products, programs, and strategies to increase international tourist arrivals to 12 million and domestic travelers to 89.2 million by 2022 — TIEZA is also working on D.R.E.A.M. (Destination Tourism, Restoration Tourism, Ecotourism, Agritourism, and Medical Tourism) Projects. Mr. Paragas emphasized that this centralized plan is important in making sure they identify the right places to invest in, which brings us to the third pillar: asset management and building. TIEZA wants to create private-public partnerships in order to develop islands and beaches, as well as build hotels and resorts.
Next is the Tourism Enterprise Zone. TIEZA wishes to focus on developing strategically located areas with historical and cultural significance to stimulate socio-economic development. These land areas, which need to be at least five hectares, would be worth 5 million US dollars in investment.
The last pillar is the legacy project, Manila Cruise Terminal, which is supposed to be built and used for tourism purposes alone. Mr. Paragas said that making cruises available would be very helpful for tourism. These cruises would not only provide tourists with board and lodging, but also with the opportunity to visit different islands in the Philippines.
After Mr. Paragas had shared TIEZA’s plans for the development of tourism in the Philippines, I suddenly felt excited for the future of the Philippine Tourism sector. I left the meeting with a good feeling that the mentioned Tourism Master Plan could, indeed, become the key pillar of Philippine economic growth.
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