Prospects for the Tourism Industry in Region VI with Special Focus on Iloilo City
Congressman Jerry P. Treñas
I wish to extend my warmest greetings to the participants, distinguished guests and organizers of the Western Visayas Tourism and Culinary Convention. Iloilo City is honored to host a convention that will surely promote tourism in the entire Western Visayas Region.
The present administration is pushing for a strong tourism campaign in order to regain the lost luster of Philippine tourism. Numerous local concerns and events have hampered our efforts to attract foreign tourists in the previous years. Negative images conjured by disturbing events, such as the Manila hostage crisis which claimed the lives of several foreigners, have definitely slowed down our tourism campaign. The on-going conflict in Mindanao, extra-legal killings and other politically-motivated incidents of violence have also painted a negative picture of our country.
Nevertheless, the prospects for our tourism industry remain bright. Region VI tourism remains strong. Iloilo City tourism is as vibrant as ever.
The secret behind our country’s and our region’s success in tourism, despite the existence of tourist-deterring problems such as terrorism and kidnapping, is our unique and attractive tourist destinations. We have a rich amalgamation of natural wonders, colonial-era structures, and modern marvels that are simply irresistible in the eyes of both foreign and local tourists. Unfortunately, this “secret” to our continued tourism success remains a secret. We are blessed with so many attractions in the country, but we are not doing enough to market our attractions to convince visitors to come to our nation.
Imagine what we could do with an innovative and well-coordinated tourism market strategy for Western Visayas. Tourists flock to destinations with only a few attractions, such as Singapore. Through a strong marketing campaign, Singapore has attracted numerous visitors, even though it only boasts of a thick urban jungle of modern buildings and a handful of parks and activity centers. The same is true with Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. The difference lies in the ability of their tourism marketing teams to attract visitors through their catchy and avant-garde promotions.
The best illustration of this disparity of image-building is the perception of foreigners of ASEAN countries. Malaysia is synonymous to “truly Asia” while Indonesia is famed for the beaches of Bali. On the other hand, the Philippines is known more for its negative image rather than its numerous tourist attractions. Sadly, the country is known for “bombings” instead of “Boracay”.
One can argue that the tourism sector does not have control over the crime rate and political instability in the Philippines, so no marketing genius can come up with a brilliant plan to boost our country’s tourism. However, with the abundance of tourist attractions in our country, our tourism teams can definitely overcome the negative image of our nation. Thailand remains a premiere tourist destination in Asia despite having a less-stable political landscape compared to the Philippines because it has a well-conceptualized and well-executed marketing strategy for its tourism industry. Our other ASEAN neighbors have fewer tourist attractions, but they attract more tourists because of the same successful strategies similar to Thailand.
In fact, I can confidently say that the tourist attractions in Region VI alone can rival or even exceed the total tourist destinations of entire countries in the ASEAN region, as well as in the other parts of the world. Western Visayas is home to countless of natural wonders, including the pristine beaches of Aklan, Antique and Guimaras, and the impressive architectures of Negros Occidental and Iloilo. Region VI also boasts of world-renowned festivals including the Ati-atihan of Aklan, the Masskara Festival of Bacolod City and the Dinagyang Festival of Iloilo City.
Iloilo City, which is rich in history, culture and spectacular architecture, is home to several tourist attractions. A good number of tourist sites can be found in Iloilo City – the Jaro Cathedral, Molo Church, the city’s Central Business District, Fort San Pedro, Museo Iloilo, and countless of other tourist destinations. Tourists visiting my Congressional District will also enjoy the sumptuous Ilonggo cuisine at the numerous restaurants all over the city. For those who prefer to enjoy night life’s exuberance, the Smallville Entertainment Complex in Mandurriao District offers a number of bars, cafes, restaurants and clubs.
Western Visayas has so much to offer to both foreign and local tourists. Our region can cater to a wide range of tourist interests. Those who wish to behold old churches can marvel the Miag-ao Church in Iloilo, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The world-famous island of Boracay is the place to be for those who fancy relaxing or partying in the beach. We have so many enticing tourist spots in Western Visayas. If we could only come up with a strong marketing campaign, tourists from all over the world will surely come.
We already have all the ingredients necessary to be the center of tourism in the Philippines and to be one of the best tourism regions in Southeast Asia. Western Visayas has four airports which could easily accommodate the arrival of tourists, namely, the Iloilo International Airport, Bacolod-Silay Airport, Kalibo Airport and Caticlan Airport. There are numerous daily flights from Manila and Cebu that go to and from the major airports of Western Visayas, which makes the region easily accessible. There are also numerous world-class hotels in our region. Most importantly, the people of Western Visayas are well-known for their friendliness and sincerity. Tourists from all over the world will surely fall in love with the people of Western Visayas.
We must pull our resources together and brainstorm in order to strengthen tourism in Western Visayas. Our effort to boost our Region’s tourism is in consonance with the Tourism Act of 2009, which states that it is the policy of the national government to consider tourism as an indispensable element of the national economy and an industry of national interest and importance Through the coordinated efforts of the private sector, the local governments of Western Visayas, and the Department of Tourism, we could push Western Visayas to become one of the premiere tourist destinations in Southeast Asia.