Why the Tourism Industry is Weak in the Philippines
With its sunny beaches, untouched islands, friendly people, and unique culture and history, the Philippines has all the elements to become a prime tourist destination in Southeast Asia. Who wouldn’t want to spend their vacation in the warm climate of the Pearl of the Orient?
But as the numbers show, the Philippines’ tourism industry is actually lagging behind, especially when compared to its ASEAN neighbors like Thailand or Malaysia. Despite having the strongest potential, the Philippines is hindered by several factors from becoming the next tourist hotspot.
The Philippines, in comparison
Last 2019, the Philippines recorded around 8.26 million foreign tourists entering the country. This number was a record high, and it has only consistently increased throughout the years, from 6.6 million in 2017 and 7.1 million in 2019.
However, this number pales in comparison to those of the tourism industries from our neighboring Southeast Asian countries. For example, Thailand, which is the most popular destination in the region, saw the entry of almost 40 million foreign tourists in 2019 alone. In Malaysia, it was at 20 million, while in Vietnam, it was at 18 million.
These Southeast Asian regions all started focusing on their tourism industries at approximately the same time, but why and how did the Philippines get left behind by its neighbors through the years? It turns out that our tourism has been held back by different factors.
Poor infrastructure and transportation
Quality infrastructure is the backbone of a successful tourism industry. This includes everything from airports and docks, hotels and other accommodations, public roads, and other facilities.
While there have been significant improvements in infrastructure on the micro-level through local efforts like providing accommodations and developing small businesses, tourism infrastructure on the national scale has been generally neglected.
Anyone who’s ever had to go through NAIA knows that the Philippines’ primary gateway leaves much to be desired. And when stepping out of the airport, tourists are immediately welcomed by the congested roads of Manila. There’s also a lack of proper tollways around the country, a rail network, or a systematized transportation system. This makes traveling to the country’s different tourist spots a tiring and time-consuming experience.
Poor infrastructure is definitely the Philippines’ main barrier to fully becoming a competent tourist destination.
The Philippines’ archipelagic nature is like a double-edged sword for the tourism sector. Our beautiful islands are the main attraction for the tourists that visit the country, but it also means that these tourist spots are more remote and usually require another flight to finally reach.
For example, foreigners who want to go to Coron in Palawan will need to first enter the Philippines through NAIA in Manila, before going on another plane to reach Coron via Busuanga Airport.
For the tourists on a budget, airfare is a big deciding factor because it takes a big fraction of the total expenses for the trip. And so while the Philippines is considered an affordable destination, this is sometimes overshadowed by the expensive transportation costs, which makes tourists less inclined to visit the country.
Lack of promotion
No matter how remote or underdeveloped a place is, tourists will still want to visit the area if it was given good promotion. Sadly, the publicity efforts for Philippine tourism is not as far-reaching as compared to that of Thailand’s or Malaysia’s. Awareness of the country’s tourist destinations is comparably low, especially in European countries.
Current publicity campaigns also underperform in establishing the full identity of the Philippines and differentiating the experience from those of other ASEAN countries. Because we are surrounded by similarly beautiful countries, campaigns must give a solid effort of leveraging on our authenticity to encourage tourists to visit the Philippines.
The “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” campaign is successful in increasing awareness and improving tourist perception of the Philippines, but there’s still so much more that can be done to transform the Philippines from a niche destination into a widely-known spot on the map.
Poor international image
Because of the lack of strong promotion, the “bad side” of the Philippines becomes all the more glaring. Through the years, the Philippines has developed a negative and unfair reputation in the international tourist community for being poor and unsafe to visit. There are also concerns about the overly visible poverty, congested traffic, and dirtiness of certain areas.
These problems are not unique to the Philippines. In fact, neighboring countries like Thailand and Indonesia have their own share of societal issues, yet they have maintained a prospering tourism industry and a generally positive reputation within the community. This is primarily because of their strong promotional efforts that market their tourism in the best way possible.
This only goes to show that the tourism sector in the Philippines should strengthen their campaigns to counter negative perceptions and improve the overall Philippine branding.
Lack of a comprehensive tourism program
Overarching all of the points we’ve mentioned before is this. Currently, the tourism industry in the country is fragmented and uncoordinated. With different agencies and institutions handling different sections for tourism development, there is no clear coordination among the institutions toward a clear goal or vision.
All of the necessary efforts – from building better infrastructure, to encouraging more businesses, to strengthening campaigns – must all be done synergistically. Also, they must be done with foreign and domestic tourists in mind, without forgetting the welfare of the local communities.
The tourism industry already majorly contributes to the Philippine economy (amounting to 12.7% of the country’s GDP in 2019), and so it must be given enough attention by the government as a major pillar of the economy. In order to fully harness the potential of tourism in the Philippines, there must be a concerted and comprehensive effort from the ground up, from the local to the national scale.
It’s clear that there is no shortage of beautiful attractions that the Philippines has to offer, and it’s because of these obstacles, among others, that hinder the country from being a top-bill tourist destination. While there have been several great developments over the years, there is still so much that can be done to holistically improve the tourism industry in the country.
We are hopeful that if a comprehensive tourism strategy is enacted, it won’t be long until the Philippines fully realizes its potential as a prime tourist hotspot among its peers.
What do you think about this issue? What do you think hinders the tourism industry in the Philippines? Share them with us below!