Thursday, 23 September 2010

Real Philippine tourists

Written by John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

In the aftermath of the Luneta Park tragedy, suddenly everyone became an expert on what the Philippines needs to do to attract more tourists. That is human nature, I suppose. The same thing happened after those terrible accidents down near Naga City. Everyone became an expert on traffic management, road design and bus driving.

The suggestions about tourism have flowed like wine at a wedding. I wonder, though, how many of the pundits have dealt with actual tourists to know their reactions to the Philippines. Balikbayan cousins do not count as tourists.

Last weekend I entertained some real tourists, business associates who wanted to see and experience a little of the Philippines after concluding our business. I asked them how their hotel was—the Makati Shangri-La. They all said it was great. But it was not the physical hotel that was memorable. One lady in our group was amazed when the hostess at the reception area on the executive floor greeted her as “Miss Maureen” in spite of the fact that the reservation was under the name of “M. Smith.” “Miss Maureen” had stayed at the Shang several months ago on a previous trip.

Another of these tourists commented that when he went to Shoemart, there was an abundance of salespeople available to help as he shopped, a level of service unheard of in the US that we here expect and take for granted.

But the real test for the Philippines as a tourist destination came on Saturday, when I loaded them into the company van and we sped south for Tagaytay. As soon as we cleared the Alabang area, they were amazed at all the trees and greenery. We went through Santa Rosa with booming property developments and the conversation turned to the incredible value that Philippine real estate offers to foreign buyers.

Aside from the natural beauty of Tagaytay, the area is experiencing another kind of building boom, with Robinsons Land and SM Development putting up large hotel and residential/resort complexes.

Our first destination found us on the Cavite side at Sonya’s Garden for lunch. Although Sonya’s Garden is not that extraordinary as there are several similar places in Tagaytay, my guests were enthralled at its Filipino charm and beauty, as they had never experienced something exactly like Sonya’s before.

After lunch, we drove to Picnic Grove to see Taal. Of course, it was crowded—crowded with ordinary people having a day out, Filipino- style, which means large groups of family and friends and large amounts of food. My associates loved the view and also the people around the park having fun.

A drive down the road to People’s Park was followed by a jeepney ride up to the Palace in the Sky and stories of past government extravagances combined with a breathtaking view.

No trip to Tagaytay would be complete without stopping for a pasalubong of buko pie and a stop to look at the locally made furniture and roadside stalls that sell plants and pottery. The drive back to Makati was smooth and quick, as the South Luzon Expressway is completed until you get to where the Skyway is still under construction. Next time they come, we are heading to Pansol or maybe Corregidor Island. They had a wonderful time.

The reason I share this long-winded story is because of an e-mail from a tourist that Boo Chanco published in his Philippine Star column the other day.

“I’m back visiting the Philippines. I recently took a couple of trips from Makati to Puerto Azul, Tagaytay and Caylabne—one through the coastal road, and the other down the South Superhighway. The destination venues were fine and enjoyable, but to get to them we had to travel through miles and miles of God-awful decrepit urban areas, shanties and squalor with practically nowhere to eat a decent meal in a decent restaurant along the highway.

“Don’t the Filipinos in ‘power’ realize that the traffic chaos, highway infrastructure and appalling squatter conditions will turn off any tourists from ever coming again or recommending it to friends.”

I am sure this is the kind of tourist who would write a Japanese newspaper columnist complaining about the $20 beer, the fact that no one speaks English, only Japanese, and that all the eateries serve noodles and fish.

What a jerk. Allow me to respond.

First, on the road to Puerto Azul is a place that serves the best bulalo in Cavite. Their dinuguan and puto are pretty good, too. I would also recommend staying awake as you travel, since there must be a dozen Jollibees down Coastal Road if the local eateries are not decent enough for your taste.

Second, sorry about the squalor and squatters but they were not placed next to the road just to annoy you. We are not happy about it either. You see, the average per-capita gross domestic product in the Philippines is about $3,500 versus $47,000 in the US, and Filipinos are working hard to improve things. Someone once tried boarding up the squatter areas so your fragile sensibilities would not be damaged, but then the squatters took the plywood to build slightly better shacks. I suggest the next time you come, trying throwing a lot of dollars out the car window as you pass and maybe the next time you visit, the view will be more acceptable to you.

Finally, if you expect or want the Philippines to be like Disneyworld next time, go to Disneyworld. Visiting another country is like visiting someone’s home. They may not live the same way you do and if you don’t like it, don’t visit. But the tourists who come understanding this is not Chicago or London or Tokyo, have a great time.

This item appeared in the paper the same day as Boo’s column. “Australian Susan May Jennifer Taylor and Moroccan Youssef Mouflih were taken into custody by the police after they failed to pay their hotel bill of P58,674.94 at the Millionaires Hotel in Pasay City.” Millionaires is one of those hotels with mirrors on the ceiling. I was really wishing that this was the tourist who e-mailed Boo.

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1 comment:

  1. Sometimes, it's hard to please every tourist that visits the Philippines. The government should do more. It's good that they have launched a better tourism campaign. I hope this will boost the inflow of foreign tourists in the country