Speech of Secretary Jimenez inthe Makati Business Club


Speech of Tourism Secretary Ramon R. Jimenez Jr.:In front of the Makati Business Club
[Delivered at the Intercontinental Manila on March 29, 2012]
Thank you, Mr. Lance Gokongwei; Ms. Corazon De La Paz-Bernardo. Good Afternoon.
Mr. Robert de Ocampo; Mr. Edgar Chua; Mr. Guilermo Luz; members, friends, from the media, ladies and gentlemen:
First of all, thank you very much for abbreviating the list of brands I have actually worked on for 35 years. I have to begin—you know I was sitting there and I was looking at the theme about constructive ideas, and when you have worked for 35 years in advertising and you are standing in front of a room full of potential clients, your first instinct is to make a pitch, which is to a very large extent what I intend to do today, before I actually tell you what is in store for the tourism business for the Philippines.
The reason I am going to make a pitch, and Mr. Bill Luz here—and it’s very appropriate—is the core idea behind your tourism campaign, not mine, is actually the same as the core idea I would like to pitch for Philippine investment abroad, because the primary offering of this country is its people.
If tomorrow, and around the world, the Philippines was able to successfully convince investors that solid investment is not about where you invest your money but whom you will work with, the Philippines will win hands down.
The Philippines is the most established business solution in workforces in the world. It is the established business solution in the healthcare industry. The Filipino worker is the established business solution in the maritime industry. The Filipino worker is the established business solution in the BPO industry, and as even people from Singapore and Malaysia will tell you, the Filipino workforce is the established business solution in the tourism and hospitality industry.
We are sitting on top of a goldmine, because the Filipino is really the most significant advantage we have as a country. I tell investors all the time: don’t think about where to put your money. Worry about whom you are going to have a management meeting with tomorrow. Worry about with whom you are going to have a quality circle meeting with tomorrow, and you will find out, as many other companies in world find out, that Filipinos work. And that’s fundamentally where your new tourism campaign comes from.
It comes from a very simple insight: that what is truly touristic begins not with what you see but whom you are with when you see it.
The Filipino takes it as his personal responsibility that the guest is okay. In fact, we have a somewhat irritating reputation for badgering our guests by constantly asking them if they are okay. “Are you okay?” “Have you eaten?” “Did they treat you right?” Etcetera.
This isn’t a put-on. Filipinos find it very difficult to share space without turning you into a friend. In fact, it has often been said that no one stays a stranger in the Philippines for longer than 24 hours. And if you make the mistake of staying for more than 30 days, you could end up as godfather at somebody’s christening.
Your new tourism campaign was based fundamentally on that insight. The willingness of the Filipino to allow his guest to participate in the joy of living. And that is why we have one of the highest revisit rates in the world. Sixty-five percent of all the people who come to the Philippines eventually come back. So every time I say that our tourism numbers have gone up, I actually mean that we have practically secured 65 percent of the future, because those people who came, are coming back for sure.
Now, we live in an exciting time.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization estimates that over one billion people will travel across national boarders this year. In 2011, the Philippines counted 27.9 million trips domestically, or over 14 million round trips domestically in 2011. That is our domestic tourism record, it is one of the most spectacular records in the world.
In January of this year, as you may already have heard, we saw 411,000 foreign arrivals in the Philippines. The first time we breached the 400,000-mark for just one month. As of last count, over 3.9 million foreign tourists came to the Philippines in a year.
And all these is described simply as the beginning.
You know some people will point out that other countries have much bigger success—Thailand, Malaysia, even Vietnam. But my attitude as your Tourism Secretary is simply this: A good beginning is just that. It is the start of something good. Where we have come from is a far cry from where we are today because where we go from here, how high, how fast, is entirely up to us.
And the question that must be answered is: “Okay Mon, what has changed?”
For starters, we have today the most tourism-oriented government in the history of the Republic. President Noynoy Aquino is by far in a way the most committed to tourist as any previous president. This time the government is putting its money where its tourism ambitions lie.
For example, in the area of infrastructure. This year’s infrastructure budget will be focused on tourism related infrastructure projects: 8.1 billion has been earmarked for construction of access roads leading to airports and RO-RO ports alone. In addition to this, 12 billion will be for the development of new international airports.
I keep telling everyone, the tourism picture, or snapshot you’re getting today will be very dramatically different in 2 years from now when a lot of these new gateways start coming out of the chute. But the time to get excited, the time to start building, the time to start investing in tourism is now. We cannot afford to start waiting for the cement to dry on these airports before we make our moves.
And so, the Tourism Department has, in fact, embarked as you may now know on a very aggressive pricing program, very aggressive value-package program, that will compete effectively with the rest of Asia.
Part of the job is convincing the rest of government to compete also. In keeping with that, the national government has in fact spearheaded—after much talk that came before—the national government has spearheaded the review of policy bottlenecks that run counter to tourism’s progress.
This includes matters pertaining, for example, to, it was mentioned earlier, the economic viability of airlines as affected by commons carriers tax, the gross billings tax, and even the infamous CIQ or Customs immigrations and quarantine chargers.
The common-carriers tax and gross billings tax are headed for extinction because both the bills in the House and in the Senate call for their abolition. And since we are already on second reading in the Congress, we have every confidence that that will pass.
Also, we are working continuously on the FAA downgrade, and of course, related to that, the EU ban on Philippine carriers. And we are confident that soon, within the year, we will get that upgrade.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Justice have already issued the circular that relaxes the visa requirements on 166 countries. Before, the Philippines granted for some strange reason only 21 days for visa-free arrival. And it was only when we started asking ourselves whether that was really a fun thing to do that everyone realized that the only way to compete was to automatically grant 30 days.
That circular, both from the DFA and the Bureau of Immigration, has finally been sent to all offices around the world. So the standard visa-free for 166 countries is 30 days. We have also gotten the DFA to issue a circular that retirees, those who are speculating on retiring in the Philippines, automatically get 6 months visa visiting the Philippines.
I am anxious to announce that by the end of this year, the Philippines will be the first country in the world to grant senior-citizen rights and discounts to all senior citizens arriving in the Republic of the Philippines. And the BIR and the Department of Finance are now working on the mechanics for such a move. There is no reason we cannot communicate to the world that the Philippines is fun, no matter what age you are.
Second of course, and very important. We aim to reposition your Department of Tourism not as a regulatory body, but as your selling arm. “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” is positive proof of the retraining and the reorientation we are undergoing at the DOT, as I speak. This has been painful for a lot of people, because we used to have a department that really just granted permits and organized familiarization tours.
Now we are tasked with actually delivering the volume, the goods, the demand; and we are determined to do that. I believe we are off to a good start. I am happy to share that international visitor arrivals continue, after the January announcement, at double-digit levels for February, although the official figures are not yet out.
Just this month, we finalized the National Tourism Development Plan, and by the end of the Holy Week, the President shall find this plan on his desk. The National Tourism Development Plan enumerates in great detail our strategic plans until 2016 and beyond, and it identifies 21 tourism clusters for development across the country.
For the first time in a long time, this country now has a complete digital catalogue of all the touristic sites in the Philippines. It sounds simple, but no one bothered to put it together before.
There are nine tourism product categories which we will focus on. By the way, every time people ask me “Secretary, which areas will we focus on?” I keep reminding them we focus on activities, not places. These nine activities are: Nature, Culture, Sun and Beach, Cruise, MICE, Health and Wellness, Marine Leisure, Entertainment, Education.
The final point I want to make is this. Ironically, the most important discovery I have made as your Tourism Secretary has to do with the so-called issue on public toilets—as if it was the responsibility of the Philippine government to actually build all these things. And in fact, at one point in time, the government actually did. It actually attempted to build these things across the country; and naturally, you can almost imagine, after a while, the fund sources dried up, and we were looking for public toilets again.
The new standard will be our ability to couple Department and Tourism demands with private facilities. There are 500 McDonalds around the country. There are 800 Jollibees around the country. There are over a thousand BPI branches. There are thousands of Mini Stops and 7-Elevens. All of them have clean, well lit, guarded public toilets and eating areas with security guard. In other words, safe haven, for any tourist. We never approached them all these years. We will now.
The involvement of the private sector will be that tourism, as we said from the very start, is everyone’s business, and most certainly, it is the people’s business. And the Filipinos ability to participate is what makes the experience different.