The world’s biggest business – Manila Standard


The world’s biggest business is not firearms, not drugs, not oil.  Neither is it manufacturing.  It is travel and tourism.

Tourism contributed $7.6 trillion to the global economy (10.2 percent of global GDP) and generated 292 million jobs (one in 10 jobs on the planet) in 2016.

According to the World Economic Forum, for the sixth consecutive year, tourism growth outperformed that of the global economy, showcasing the industry’s resilience in the face of global geopolitical uncertainty and economic volatility.

Left out from this nearly $8-trillion business yearly and massive employment generation binge is the Philippines.

Among the major countries of the Asean (The Asean Big Five which includes the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore), the Philippines has consistently performed the worst—in global rankings as a competitive tourist destination, in tourism arrivals, in tourism income, in tourism job generation, and in tourism infrastructure. 

Our tourism management is also one of the worst.  Proof: First, we keep copying the tourism advertising of other countries like Poland in 2010, Switzerland in 2012, and South Africa and Quebec, Canada just this year.  Yet, each time, the branding fails as soon as it is launched.  And the tourists do not show up.  Second, the Philippines consistently fails to hit its tourism arrival targets.  The target was 6 million in 2016.  Actual: 5.9 million.   We should be doing 10 million arrivals annually by now.  We are getting only 60 percent of that.

Why aim for 10 million?   We have a population of 105 million, more than enough warm bodies to welcome 10 million visitors.  The ratio is three people for each visitor.  We speak the language of tourism and the internet, English.  We have among the world’s most beautiful beaches (better than those in Thailand, the No. 1 in tourism in Asean) and natural wonders like the Banaue Rice Terraces, Mayon Volcano with its perfect cone, Tagaytay with its lake within a lake and volcano within a volcano.  We have Manila which is 446 years old which became a Spanish enclave in 1571 and a Muslim hub centuries before that.  It also is home to the world’s largest Chinatown.

We have 7,107 islands.  Our biodiversity is the second richest in the world.  Our culture blends the best from the East and and from the West (We have 500 years of Christianity).  This also makes our cuisine unique but with universal appeal.

In 2015, the latest year for which complete comparative data is available, the Philippines had only 5.361 million arrivals, last among the Asean Big Five and next to the last among the Asean 9 (not counting Brunei).

In 2015, the Philippines had only 5.36 million tourists, No. 6, behind No. 1 Thailand 29.88 million; No. 2 Malaysia 25.72 million; No. 3 Singapore 15.23 million; No. 4 Indonesia 10.40 million; No. 5 Vietnam 7.94 million; and No. 7 Cambodia 4.77 million.          

In 2011, the comparative rankings were: 1. Malaysia 24.71 million; 2. Thailand 19.09 million; 3. Singapore 13.17 million; 4. Indonesia 7.65 million; 5. Vietnam 6.01 million; 6. Philippines 3.91 million; 7. Cambodia 2.88 million; 8. Laos 2.72 million; 9. Myanmar 816,000; and 10. Brunei 242,000.

Thailand, No. 2 in 2011, overtook Malaysia to become No. 1 in 2015.  Already poorly performing, the Philippines slid one rung to No. 7.  Between 2011 and 2015, Thailand’s visitor arrivals increased by a whopping 10.78 million people or 56.46 percent or by an average of 2.7 million tourists a year or 14.11 percent per year.

In the same four-year period (2011-2015), arrivals in the Philippines rose by just 1.464 million tourists or 37.37 percent, an average rise per year of 366,000 or 9.33 percent. This number—366,000, Thailand generates every six weeks. It takes the Philippines one year to generate it. What a shame.

Who or what is to blame then?  Four factors: 1.  President BS Aquino’s rift with China; 2.  Peace and order; 3.  Poor tourism infrastructure; 4. Simple mismanagement of the tourism program.  Three times in the past seven years, the Philippines was found to have copied the tourism advertising programs of four other countries.

On August 2010, during BS Aquino’s first year as president, eight Chinese tourists died in a hostage-taking incident in Manila. Aquino visited the site of the tragedy apparently smiling, or at least with a smirk. He refused to apologize to the families of the victims.  In succeeding years, he carried on a quarrel with China on territorial claims in the South China Sea.  So the Chinese stopped coming to Manila.

Six of every 100 visitors to Asia are Chinese. Some 55 million Chinese visited the Asia Pacific last year.

On the security front, the Philippines has the world’s longest-running communist insurgency, the world’s longest-running Muslim separatist movement, and according to President Duterte himself, some four million drug addicts.  

 On May 23, 2017, Duterte declared martial law on the Philippines’ second largest island, Mindanao which has 20 percent of the total population.  Officials announced that ISIS–Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—is trying to establish a caliphate or an IS province in Marawi City, the Philippines’ premier Muslim city. 

More than 300 have died after nearly a month of deadly skirmishes between government troops and so-called Muslim “rebels” trying to establish a caliphate in Mindanao. 

Seven countries, led by the United States and the United Kingdom, have travel advisories to their citizens against visiting parts or  the whole the Philippine archipelago.

As for tourism infrastructure, among the Asean Big Five, the Philippines has the worst—in global ranking, in business environment, in safety and security, in health and hygiene, in human resource and labor market, and in ICT readiness, according to the World Economic Forum survey of 136 countries for 2017.

In airports and ground and port infra, the Philippines has the lowest ranking among the Asean Five.  We do not have adequate and enough airports and enough hotel rooms to host 10 million guests a year.

So we miss cashing in on the world’s biggest business.


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