…essence of Philippine Tourism
By Apolinario Villalobos
Big cities in the Philippines have sufficient rooms for tourists, provided by lodging inns and multiple star hotels. But this is not so for towns and villages that are visited by tourists during the summer months which are the season for fiestas, and even year-round for some, as in the case of destinations that boast of natural attractions such as mountains, caves, swift white rivers, as well as, indigenous flora and fauna.
During the ‘70s which was the peak of tourist promotion effort of Philippine Airlines through its Tours and Promotions Division of Marketing and Sales-Philippines (MSP), the “hospitality home” was conceived by the think tank group of Vic Bernardino who heads the said division. The concept which was integrated in the PALakbayan Tour Program was supported by the late, Mr. Ricardo Paloma, the then, Regional Vice-President of MSP. The concept was laid down for appreciation and implementation of local governments which extended their full support. Along with this concept was also the promotion of the “backyard tourism”. To differentiate it from commercialized tourism, the “backyard tourism” was the small-scale tourism-related business that far-flung towns and villages operated in line with the Department of Tourism’s effort to drum up the attractions of the country.
Among the popular destinations that overflowed with tourists during festival season then, were Marinduque with its Moriones Festival, Kalibo with its original Ati-Atihan Festival, and Bukidnon with its Kaamulan Festival. Due to the limited commercial lodging facilities, pre-chosen local families were asked to host visitors for certain fees that varied according to their facilities and offered meals. Nowadays, sufficient lodging facilities have been built by local governments to accommodate visitors.
The tourism industry of the Philippines, did not start with big hotels. The industry started from scratch, so to speak. The hospitality home type of accommodation in the provinces supported the influx of foreign tourists in Manila, Cebu and Davao, as the hordes were desirous to see and experience more of the country. The PALakbayan Tour Program of the national flag carrier, PAL, through its Tours and Promotions Office successfully distributed tourists throughout the country. This is how the St. Paul Subterranean Park of Palawan, now known as Underground River of Puerto Princesa, the “dragons” of Caramoan peninsula in Bicol, the Chocolate Hills of Bohol, the enticing waves of the Quezon Province and Camarines Sur, Mt. Apo of Davao, Mt. Mayon of Albay, Mt. Hibok-Hibok of Camiguin, Mt. Pulog of Benguet, Mt. Kanlaon of Negros, to name a few of the mountains, Sicogon Island, the beaches of Cebu, Tubbataha Reef of Palawan and other dive sites in Mindoro, Cebu, Dumaguete, Davao, the Philippine Eagle, and later, the now world-renown Boracay….became essential features of international travel brochures and magazines..
It was a hectic period of promotional effort for the Bernardino group which reaped good results. Those who sacrificed much of their time were Edgar Buensuceso who handled the cave explorations and researches on the Philippine flora and fauna for promotion to nature lovers of Europe, Australia and Japan, as well as, the promotion of awareness on the Philippine Eagle; John Fortes who handled the mountain climbing activities; and Julio Luz, Jr. and Thelma Villaseῆor, who organized dive expeditions. Edgar Buensuceso can also be credited for the development of birdwatching as a popular naturist activity in the country. John Fortes on the other hand, did much in organizing the different mountaineering organizations in the Philippines into the National Federation of the Philippines. During mountain climbs, the diminutive Joe Cobilla, a famous outdoor photographer of the Department of Tourism was always part of the groups to document every detail of the treks. The photos of Mr. Cobilla graced the pages of many travel brochures and magazines here and abroad which further boasted the concerted effort of the national government and PAL in promoting tourism.
Tourism industry is the only hope of the government in earning the much-needed revenue to bolster the economy of the country. Agriculture is out of the question, as the agencies involved are inutile in making the country rice sufficient, despite the presence of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Laguna, Asia’s cradle of knowledge for rice technology. Even the onions and garlic are imported from China, Taiwan and Thailand. The high technology is likewise out, as the country has become the receiving end for sub-standard gadgets from China. Cheap and competitive, but unfortunately seasonal labor cannot be relied on, as the meager take home pay of workers has no buying strength. The exported labor is likewise threatened due to unrests at host countries which drastically affects dollar remittance.
In pursuing the advocacy of tourism, cooperation is necessary – among the residents, as well as, the local and the national governments. And, finally, the accommodation and transport components of the industry play an important role as they must be consistent in satisfactorily serving the needs of the tourists who now include local travelers. The Filipinos showed that with their innate hospitality, both foreign and local tourists can have fun around the country. Thanks to the Filipino hospitality as it has bolstered the tourism industry that has overshadowed the badly smeared image of the government due to prevalent corruption in practically, all its branches.