Funding shortfall providing role for investors

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2001, 12:00am

Secretary of Tourism Richard Gordon has the unenviable task of turning around the industry with a budget of just US$660,000.

Mr Gordon believes domestic and foreign investors will take up the shortfall in funding for what appears to be a mammoth task.

According to Mr Gordon, the plan is to prepare the groundwork before launching the search for investors.

'I don't want to lean on anybody right now. I want to make sure that I have the product first,' he said.

'I'm not going to come out and sell something that I don't have.'

As a tourist destination, the Philippines offers all the pros and cons associated with a Southeast Asian developing nation.

The capital, Manila, is a 12-million person problematic urban sprawl characterised by pollution, squatter camps, grid-locked roads and poor infrastructure.

An unstable political scene and kidnappings by the Moslem extremist Abu Sayyaf group have not provided the best advertising for a country desperate to attract tourist dollars.

In contrast, the Philippines' 7,100 islands, boast clean beaches and have some of the world's best diving.

Mr Gordon - three weeks into his job - has launched a major charm offensive.

'If you look at the statistics, very few tourists have been killed in the Philippines,' he said.

Last week he met Hong Kong Tourist Association chief Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee to discuss strengthening tourism ties.

He said the meeting was 'productive'.

Last year, the Philippines attracted 160,000 visitors from Hong Kong. It also attracted 370,000 from Japan - a prime source of tourism revenue.

However, this compares unfavourable with the 800,000 Japanese tourists Singapore drew in last year.

'If you don't have the product, nobody's going to come to you,' Mr Gordon said.

During his 12 years as Olongapo City mayor, Mr Gordon transformed 'Sin City', as it was dubbed by the locals, and the connected former United States Army base at Subic Bay, into a thriving industry and tourism hub.

Subic Bay hosted the 1996 Asian Pacific Economic Co-operation forum leaders summit, is the Asia-hub for United States express cargo carrier Federal Express, and receives 18 tourist flights a week.

Mr Gordon said the government wanted to entice tourists into spending a few days in Manila before moving to outlying islands.

'I don't mind if tourists want to go off to Cebu, but certainly Manila should be competing,' he said.

Already the city authorities have mobilised groups of students to remove graffiti, clear rubbish and spruce up some of the capital's grander colonial buildings.

'Not just for the sake of cleaning it but to get involved,' Mr Gordon said.

'Just to let them know that they can make a difference.'

The government has even built a boardwalk covering 10 hectares behind the city's Quirino Grandstand, and is searching for joint venture partners to help develop it.

According to Mr Gordon, foreign investors will be invited to help build and develop the city's tourism industry.

Duty-free equipment imports will aid investment.

Plans are in place to open bars and restaurants in neglected parts of the city, and to install flood-lights at some of Manila's more prominent features.

'The secret is to get tourists to loosen their hold on their money by offering them a better service,' Mr Gordon said.

Addressing the personal safety issue, Mr Gordon said security at airports would be beefed up, taxi drivers would be uniformed, and more guards would be posted at beaches.

Tourists were generally warned to stay clear of the trouble spots such as the southern region of Mindanao.

'You don't go to Harlem when you go to the US,' the tourism secretary said.