Tourism efforts tainted by thieves

THE Turkish foreign Minister's wife was recently robbed at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA). She accompanied her husband who attended the 50th Asean Ministerial Meeting in Manila. She discovered that her jewelry box placed in her luggage was missing when she returned home.

Authorities later on confirmed that her missing pieces of jewelry were pilfered by four baggage handlers in the airport. How utterly embarrassing!

The Department of Tourism (DOT) spends millions of pesos attracting foreign tourists to our 7,000 plus beautiful islands, even coming up with witty taglines like "Wow Philippines" and "It's more fun in the Philippines". But these bad apples, perhaps the same ones who used to operate the laglag-bala, ruin their efforts.

Safety and security

This episode erases tourism gains; with two steps forward coupled with five enormous steps back. Security and safety are primary considerations when traveling. If a diplomat's belongings are not safe in Pinas, how then do the rest of us ordinary travelers stand a chance?

I am proud of our islands, all with their own unique charm and friendly locals. I truly hope we reach the pinnacle of success that Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, or Singapore has done in attracting millions of foreign tourists to their shores.

I often wonder why they have more tourists when we don’t lack historical and scenic spots. In fact, some of our beaches are even better, plus we speak English. Then I look at the sorry state of our country and my heart sinks because the answer is right there.

Studies indicate that safety, security, and infrastructure are huge determinants of tourism. With martial law in Mindanao, along with crime, drugs, and the never-ending traffic taking center-stage in the news, it’s not surprising that our country is not on many foreigners’ radars to see.

The facilities

There’s an initiative to rehabilitate some of the airports, but we still lack modern infrastructure, which results in poor basic services.

Terminal 2 is in dire need of more bathrooms. In peak times, all three terminals don’t have enough seats. The insufficiently manned immigration counters result into long lines.

Provincial airports and ship ports often have stinky toilets without tissue paper (especially in rural ports, some have bucket-type flush) that leave much to be desired or sweltering hot waiting areas with air-conditioning units that work poorly.

Whether for domestic or international travel, all trips are just now peppered with delays. It seems passengers these days have to condition their minds that flights will not depart on time so tempers won’t flare due to disappointment.

My dad told me on his recent trip to Boracay, he passed through Kalibo International Airport. Planes from Korea and China land there directly, which is a good thing because it decongests Manila.

The problem is Kalibo airport is so small with all the passengers crowded inside the arrival and departure areas like sardines. Humans sharing one small common space with insufficient air-conditioning equates to body heat and odor. On top of that, there are again not enough chairs to accommodate everyone.

Traffic everywhere

There are two types of traffic to deal with in this country: air and land. On my family’s recent flight back from Manila to Cagayan de Oro, our plane was sitting on the runway for so long. Our youngest was extremely bored and hot. I mean, there’s not much to do in the closed-confines of an aircraft. Our wait on the ground was longer than our flight back home, making it a huge test of patience.

We’ve also experienced when the plane had to make circles around and around due to heavy air traffic. Our aircraft had to wait ‘til air traffic control gave us runway clearance to descend in Manila. It was terrible. All that circling in the sky was motion sickness inducing!

The worst part, when we landed, there was more “traffic” to deal with in the long lines at immigration. Everyone’s nerves were frayed from the long and exhausting trip, and the equally long immigration queues just managed to wear everyone out even more.

In addition, heavy traffic from the airport to our home somewhere in Quezon City was another issue to contend with. Paranaque to Commonwealth was almost three hours long. It would have been shorter to just fly to Hong Kong. How sad. No one can ever win against this horrible traffic. It’s everywhere!

Train the right people

I’ve spoken to a lot of foreigners while waiting in airports. Some of them just don’t feel like coming back to the Philippines. In all honesty, I can’t blame them at all. Some Filipinos are even raring to leave the country.

I really feel that before investing in anymore tourism ads, our country should improve our infrastructures first and, more importantly, train the right people. I am sure all of us want a world-class airport (and ship ports), managed and run by competent people who think like travelers, anticipate needs, provide services with a smile, and don’t rip us off. It would also be great if they can get rid of those opportunistic taxi companies that charge such exorbitant fees from incoming passengers.

We Filipinos pay travel taxes and airport terminal fees and we need to see these put to good use, working for us. Foreign guests also deserve comfortable and safe transit into and from our country.

Inviting guests into our homes, and being unprepared for them and even robbing them (like the Turkish minister’s wife), is just so terribly wrong! Our airport and the people running it are always the first and last impression we make to our foreign guests. Let’s make it a good one.

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