The groundbreaking of Tourist Rest Areas across the country, a collaborative and consultative tourism governance, opening up the Philippines to tourism confidence and investment, a diversified tourism portfolio, and the pronouncement of a clear course of action are among the notable milestones achieved by the Department of Tourism (DOT) as President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. marks his first 100 days in Office with Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco at the helm of the DOT.
Secretary Frasco described her first three months in the DOT as “positive and productive”, as she underscored the Philippines’ wins in the short period, including the objectives that have been identified to facilitate the faster recovery of the tourism industry.
Groundbreaking of Tourist Rest Areas
To carry out President Marcos Jr.’s directive to improve the overall tourist experience, the DOT in partnership with the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) and with the support of the local government units (LGUs) successfully led the groundbreaking of the first batch of Tourist Rest Areas (TRAs) in Manolo Fortich in Bukidnon, Samal Island in Davao del Norte, and in Carmen and Medellin towns in Cebu, from October 7-8, 2022.
According to Secretary Frasco, the TRAs will cater to travelers in need of clean restrooms and a place to rest in between their journeys. Reflecting the President’s pronouncements during his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on the need to promote an enhanced Filipino brand, the TRAs will adopt the use of local materials and design elements. The facilities will also be equipped with information centers and pasalubong centers that will showcase a variety of products that are proudly made in the Philippines.
The Department is set to break ground on six (6) more TRAs across Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao in attainment of its target of breaking ground on ten of such facilities for 2022.
Listening tours with local and international stakeholders
Immediately upon her acceptance of President Marcos Jr.’s invitation to take the helm of the DOT, Secretary Frasco hit the ground running by going on listening tours with the DOT regional offices, attached agencies, and stakeholders from the tourism industry and related sectors across the country’s three island groups in order to obtain firsthand information on the present needs and concerns of the industry.
In just over three months, Secretary Frasco was able to engage in numerous dialogues with stakeholders from the Tourism Congress of the Philippines (TCP) and various associations and organizations from the accommodation, aviation, culinary, hospitality, and transport sectors, among others.
Furthermore, Secretary Frasco also maximized her recent official travels to Bangkok for the 11th Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Tourism Ministerial Meeting (APEC-TMM), and to New York as a delegate of President Marcos Jr.’s Working Visit by meeting with international tourism stakeholders on the sidelines of the official events.
Bilateral Meeting for Asian Tourism Cooperation
In her first three months as tourism chief, Frasco had met with her counterparts from Thailand, South Korea, Brunei Darussalam, and Malaysia to discuss the continued partnerships between our countries in terms of tourism, and strengthen the country’s bilateral relations with its ASEAN neighbors.
Establishment of a clear course of action for the DOT
Realizing the importance of identifying a clear course of action to attain the President’s vision to transform tourism into a primary engine of socio-economic recovery for the Philippines, Secretary Frasco applied her extensive local government experience and the inputs derived from her listening tours with industry stakeholders in identifying the DOT’s specific objectives and strategies in the next six years.
Under Secretary Frasco’s leadership, the DOT shall focus on seven main objectives: 1) Improvement of the country’s tourism infrastructure and accessibility; 2) Cohesive and comprehensive digitalization and connectivity; 3) Enhancement of the overall tourist experience; 4) Equalization of the DOT’s tourism product development and promotion; 5) Diversification of portfolio through multidimensional tourism; 6) Maximization of domestic tourism; and 7) Strengthening of tourism governance through collaboration with LGUs and stakeholders.
In order to attain these, the Department’s efforts will be anchored on three key strategies: Connectivity, Convenience, and (E)Quality.
Opening up to Tourism Confidence and Investments
Upon Secretary Frasco’s comprehensive presentation of a comparative analysis of mask mandates in the ASEAN region and in other western countries, the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) made a recommendation to President Marcos Jr. to liberalize the country’s mask wearing mandate to keep pace with other nations. On September 12, the President signed Executive Order (EO) No. 3 which allowed the voluntary wearing of face masks in outdoor settings. Such move, according to Secretary Frasco, “will put the Philippines at par with its competitors in terms of health protocols”.
The country’s readiness to welcome foreign visitors and investors was reiterated by Tourism Secretary Frasco in the Philippine Economic Briefings (PEB) that were recently held in Singapore and New York with President Marcos Jr. as lead.
Provision of tourism employment
Through the initiative of Secretary Frasco to coordinate with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the Trabaho, Turismo Asenso! Philippine Tourism Job Fair was launched simultaneously in NCR, Cebu, and Davao from September 22-24, 2022 with the objective of filling in gaps in the country’s tourism workforce.
The three legs of the DOT-DOLE joint job fair program aggregated 157 tourism-related companies and offered a total of 8,310 jobs. Out of the over 9,000 cumulative registrants, 395 were hired-on-the-spot (HOTS) while 8,305 were considered near hires, or those who may be hired or placed depending on the interview outcome and pre-employment requirements compliance.
Prioritization of tourism workers
The DOT is continuous in its efforts to provide trainings for tourism stakeholders, focusing on the areas of Filipino Brand of Service Excellence Program; Barrier Free Tourism; Tourism Minds Women’s Rights and Children’s Safety (TourISM WoRCS); and Sustainable Tourism.
A total of 197 trainings were conducted from July 1 to September 15, 2022 with 6,784 trained industry stakeholders from tourism related establishments, Community-Based Tourism Organizations (CBTOs) and local tourism officers. Meanwhile, the DOT has also successfully conducted 10 Statistical Capacity Building/Tourism Statistics Planning for a total of 245 participants from LGUs and other tourism stakeholders between July 14 to September 16, 2022.
Underscoring LGU’s crucial role in tourism growth
A multi-awarded local chief executive prior to her appointment as tourism secretary, having been a three-term Mayor of Liloan, Cebu, among Frasco’s first directives as tourism chief is for all regional offices and attached agencies of the DOT to reach out to LGUs within their jurisdiction to establish a strong collaboration between national and local governments.
In her first 100 days as DOT chief, Secretary Frasco commenced listening tours on the regional and local level, meeting with regional directors and local officials to discuss how their respective tourism destinations can be further developed and promoted.
Whole-of-government approach to tourism
In working towards the actualization of the President’s directive to introduce measures that will enhance of the overall tourist experience, the DOT reached out to various national government agencies such as the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) in improving the connectivity of key tourism destinations; and the Department of Transportation (DOTr) in the enhancement of international airports and seaports, possible resumption of pre-pandemic routes and development of new routes to decongest the country’s major gateways.
The DOT also engaged with the Department of Communications, Information and Technology (DICT) to discuss the strengthening of internet service availability in tourism destinations and building of tourism intelligence, and with the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to continue the presence and training of tourist police in key destinations.
Routes resumption and development
In addition to the DOT’s close alignment with the DOTr, Secretary Frasco also dialogued with AirAsia Philippines, Cebu Pacific, and Philippine Airlines (PAL) to enlist their support to the DOT’s strategies, and to lobby for the airlines’ reinstatement of flights that were halted by the pandemic as well as development of new ones that will increase the accessibility of Philippine tourism destinations to both local and international travelers.
Identification of Mindanao as a priority tourism destination
In keeping with its commitment to equalize tourism product development and promotion, the DOT also initiated coordination with the Department of National Defense (DND) to ensure the continued peace and security in tourism destinations in Mindanao and allow for the expansion of economic opportunities and tourism activities in the area.
Diversification of tourism product portfolio
Secretary Frasco also signified the DOT’s intention to diversify the country’s tourism product portfolio to include Arts Tourism as a promising addition. Likewise, the Department is further developing the country’s existing tourism products including dive and marine sports tourism, education, health and cruise tourism, food and gastronomy tourism, culture and heritage tourism, MICE tourism and halal tourism.
Working towards positioning the country as a premier diving destination in Asia, the DOT successfully lobbied for the Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving (PCSSD) to have its own budget in FY 2023 as a full-fledged agency attached of the Department.
Ongoing initiatives and next steps
The DOT is undertaking the formulation of National Ecotourism Strategic Action Plan (NESAP) 2023 – 2028 to manage, protect and conserve the country’s environment and natural resources as well as cultural heritage for the present and future generations, and the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) for 2023-2028 which shall serve as the blueprint of the Tourism Industry under President Marcos Jr.’s administration.
As earlier announced by Secretary Frasco, the DOT will also be launching the Bisita Be My Guest incentive program, Tourist Assistance Call Center, and a Tourist Lifecycle App, and most importantly, also in the pipeline are plans to incorporate the Filipino Brand in all Air and Seaports in the country to make it “distinctly Filipino”, more importantly, to facilitate a seamless travel experience for visitors for a stress-free process with reduced waiting time for travelers.
Further, in collaboration with the Department of Health (DOH), the DOT shall facilitate the improvement of health facilities in identified tourism destinations. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the DOT and the DILG for the training of Barangay Police Security Officers (BPSOs) as force multipliers in areas without Tourist Assistance Desks and Centers is also being developed.
Increased foreign visitors
The DOT has sustained its positive trajectory of foreign visitor arrivals and receipts since its reopening of borders for visa-free countries last February 10, and to leisure travelers since April of this year.
For the period February 15 to October 7, 2022, the DOT recorded a total of 1, 673, 888 air arrivals from all international airports. Out of this number, 1,192,779 are foreign nationals and 481,109 are Overseas Filipinos.
Inspired by the leadership of President Marcos Jr., Secretary Frasco expressed the DOT’s commitment to build on the industry’s current gains and relentlessly work towards putting the Philippines in a primary tourism position in the ASEAN and globally.
“We are very optimistic that with the President himself identifying tourism as an important driver for economic development and source of quality employment for our fellow Filipinos, our gains in the roughly three months since we assumed office can be sustained, and the country’s tourism industry can surpass its pre-pandemic levels. I thank the men and women of the DOT for your hard work, and I am counting on your commitment to continue serving with passion, and continue extending the Department’s hand of collaboration to more of our stakeholders in the regions and LGUs in the next six years,” Secretary Frasco said.
“In the same manner, we thank our partners in the national government, the local government, and the private sector, whose invaluable support fortified our Department’s initiatives and enabled the industry to achieve these milestones. We fully realize that the gargantuan task that lies ahead cannot be attained by the Department alone, which is why we intend to keep this participatory approach that we started,” she added.