Tourism and Geography
Published by the Visayan Daily Star Publications, Inc.
|NINFA R. LEONARDIA|
Editor-in-Chief & President
NIDA A. BUENAFE
MAJA P. DELY
ANTONIO L. LEONARDIA|
The good news that tourist arrivals breached the 400,000 mark for the first time in our history last January, accounting for a 17.5 percent increase from the same period last year has Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr. gushing with pride. A cursory look at the figures shows us most of the tourists who visited the Philippines that month came from Korea, accounting for 102,166 visitors, or 24.9 percent of the total. This is followed by the United States with 63,160 and then China with 42,868 arrivals. Japanese, Taiwanese, Australians, Canadians followed next. It is also worth noting that enough tourists came from Hong Kong to keep it in the top ten even after the bungled hostage-taking fiasco and the subsequent black listing of the Philippines that followed.
However, spend a little more time studying that list and there is one detail that anyone with a basic knowledge of world geography would notice: Our beautiful and “more fun” country is practically being ignored by tourists from Europe. The reason? Direct flights from Europe to the Philippines no longer exist with the decision of Air France/KLM to stop direct flights between Amsterdam and Manila due to what its management describes are burdensome and discriminatory taxes.
The 3 percent common carriers tax and the 2.5 percent gross Philippine billings tax charged on foreign airlines flying to the Philippines are the main reasons why Air France/KLM is stopping direct flights to Manila. Aside from those taxes that a report from the International Air Transport Association says costs us thousands of jobs and as much as $78 million in additional revenue annually from increased tourist arrivals, there is also the issue of our country’s standing with the US Federal Aviation Administration and the European Union which put the Philippines on their respective blacklists due to significant lapses in its aviation regulatory regime.
Proposals to remove the taxes on foreign airlines are already pending on both houses of Congress while the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, which was supposed to have remedied the causes of the ratings downgrade by now, has been given a new deadline by a President whose noble crusade against corruption is undermined by his inexplicable tolerance when it comes to underperforming appointees.
If the record-breaking figures for tourism arrivals in January is not a fluke, then props should go to the Department of Tourism under Secretary Jimenez. However, the target of 10 million tourists by 2016 cannot be reached if other government officials and agencies continue to do nothing and ignore the potential tourists that an entire continent could bring in had those nagging issues been resolved as soon as possible.*