The Department of Tourism has set as a target 12 million foreign tourists by the end of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term in 2022. The number may be too ambitious, but it is not unreachable if basic problems can be addressed soon. Infrastructure – roads, airport, facilities, communication and transportation – is the No. 1 logistical nightmare.
Because our infrastructure is not yet ready to absorb the influx of more tourists, more aggressive promotions should be discouraged at this point. If foreign tourists go home disappointed or angry, its ripple effects will be felt far and wide. That’s the power of word of mouth.
For now, priority should be given to domestic tourism. We will be more tolerant of our shortcomings, and constructive criticisms, feedback and suggestions to the DOT as well as the local government’s tourism bureau can be more readily given to improve services and facilities. We can be the best ambassadors for what our country can offer.
I’ve been to Aparri in the north and Jolo in the south. I will definitely try Batanes and Tawi-Tawi somehow, sometime, to complete my Philippine journey. The Philippines offers so many choices – verdant mountains and hills, cool lakes, white sand, endless blue sea, innumerable islands, food tours, museums and historical walks.
Tourism needs: Directions
My own travel ordeals can fill up several pages. I share some of them with our readers and hope to gather their own experiences, which I promise to send to the DOT. Email me at [email protected].
On Easter Sunday, I went to the wake of a friend and co-worker’s dad in Tagkawayan, Quezon province. It’s the last municipality of Quezon and is technically already part of Bicolandia. We left home before 5 a.m. to pick up someone from Quezon City and then left Pasay 5:30 a.m. Traffic app Waze informed us ETA will be 11:30 a.m., six hours. We made good time. Even with three pit stops we arrived in exactly six hours.
The lack of proper directions is noticeable. Waze told us to turn right. Before doing so, we tried to look for directions to verify if we indeed should turn right. But directions were nowhere to be found. We saw the directions in some areas only after we already made the right or left turn.
I can’t help thinking about how travelers without data plan or mobile phone to access Waze (I am one of them) manage. There were not even people we could ask for directions. We tried to console ourselves with the thought that the traffic enforcers must be manning the southbound lane because it’s Easter Sunday and more people were going south to Metro Manila than north to Quezon or Bicol.
Tourism needs: Toilets
As expected, toilet facilities are sorely lacking and those I found were stinky, dirty and downright inhospitable. One mall beside a Shell gas station (the first one after the plaza in Pagbilao, Quezon) had a sign that toilet for females was under repair and to use the two-cubicle toilet inside the men’s room. A curtain inside the men’s room divides the two cubicles from the row of men’s urinals. The queue of women waiting to use the two cubicles must have been a kilometer long. If not for the fact that we had already traveled six hours, from Tagkawayan, two hours of that stuck in standstill traffic in Pabilao (see section below), I would have left. But I am a senior and had to answer nature’s call with great urgency.
Weren’t the peak holidays anticipated? Why was the toilet repair unfinished on an Easter Sunday? I had to apologize and asked permission to jump the line. Seeing my white hair, the women kindly agreed and I thanked them profusely for their graciousness. That was a saving grace for the inexcusable traffic gridlock and improvised toilet.
Then there was another public toilet for which we each had to pay P5. I was happy to pay the fee, thinking that the toilet would be clean. It turned out to be a makeshift shed, water flooding the floor and the toilet wouldn’t flush. I couldn’t wash my hands in the dirty sink and made do with my wet wipes instead. The P5 they charged was highway robbery!
We ended the travel using a toilet inside a Max’s restaurant near SM San Pablo City. But the situation was no better. It was past 9 p.m., and there was hardly any customer. But no one had obviously cleaned the toilet for the whole day. The toilet stank. I checked the four cubicles looking for a decent one, but all the trash bins were overflowing with tissue paper and napkins all over the floor. The faucets of two of the sinks were leaking and two toilets had continuous water flow. How many gallons were wasted that day?
Tourism needs: Traffic management
Getting stuck in Pagbilao, Quezon in traffic gridlock was inexcusable. Waze said crawling traffic and estimated it would take 124 minutes in just this stretch. We’re all too familiar with negotiating a 20-minute drive for two hours in Metro Manila, but not in the province.
Vehicles were initially inching forward and then completely stopped. As no cars were coming from the south, northbound vehicles spilled over to the southbound lane to do a counterflow. In 30 minutes, the southbound lane, including the two shoulders, were clogged with vehicles all going north.
We didn’t know where the start of the gridlock was. We asked a motorcycle rider (the only ones able to squeeze between cars) and were told it stretched all the way to the Pagbilao Plaza where nothing was moving because it was salubungan (face-off). No car could enter or exit since both the north- and southbound lanes were jammed with counterflowing vehicles.
Reluctantly, I called my friend in Tagkawayan, Chief Supt. Guillermo Eleazar, Quezon City’s police chief. Fortunately, the Quezon provincial police director was beside him, and Eleazar relayed the problem. The police director immediately acted and in 40 minutes, we saw motorcycle cops reaching our place and traffic started flowing. Unfortunately, they did not have traffic citations to give to all the vehicles who counterflowed. We learned later that there were road repairs near the plaza, but the gridlock was caused by rude, inconsiderate, shameless motorists.
Tourism needs: Peace and order
Many governments warned their citizens about possible “terrorist” abductions by Abu Sayyaf bandits on the renowned tourist islands of Bohol and Cebu. Police security in the area has since been enhanced, but the tourism fallout was evident with the advisories.
The Abu Sayyaf bandits seem to be expanding their activities from its main Jolo base in the south where military offensives were launched last year. They have been abducting crew members of foreign commercial and fishing vessels. Their numbers have not diminished.
Two cases of kidnapping also happened recently in Manila and nearby Bulacan province and remain unresolved. There is no way we can lure tourists to our beautiful shores if we cannot keep them safe.
However, there is much more that the Philippines can offer aside from Boracay, Cebu and Bohol. We as fellow travelers in our country have to be ambassadors to promote our country. We point out problems and shortcomings in order that these can be addressed and more tourists can visit us.