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An Independent View
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
LAST year’s debacle when Korean tourists spent much of their time languishing in Mactan airport instead of having the hoped-for non-stop Incheon-Bacolod/Silay flight will not be repeated. If the ‘assured’ customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) system is not implemented, the Koreans will not come for their three/four days of cheap(er) golf and sex.
The Department of Tourism has set itself the optimistic target of an annual 10 million visitors, holding non-Filipino passports, coming to our shores by 2016. Its thrust, therefore, is marketing. On the other hand, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) has the responsibility to keep out undesirables, and that those who are allowed in do not bring illicit items with them. Marketing is not its main pre-occupation.
We need frankness. Is providing expensive facilities -- CIQ facilities and associated trained staff -- at Bacolod-Silay airport for a few chartered flights considered by BI to be economical? If so, is it included in its 2013 budget? If yes, why is nothing happening? If no, BI should say so.
Last week, Rep. Leonardia and West Visayas Tourism Council President John Orola met BI OIC Siefred Mison in Manila. It would be wrong for Mison to make statements which Leonardia/Orola reasonably infer to mean that the CIQ facility will be available, if this is not certain. Clarity is required and if it is not obtained, PNoy needs to receive further representations on behalf of the Negrense tourism industry.
The Korean tour organizers cannot be expected to sell a product to its clients until it is clear what the product is.
There is an important point of principle arising from the Leonardia/Orola/BI OIC meeting which is that, perhaps as a result of an unwanted and unhelpful extension of delicadeza, some people do not wish to impart bad news. No one would accuse either Leonardia or Orola of naïvete but it is not clear that they were given a definitive statement that the CIQ equipment would be installed.
We can all see through the insincere and empty ‘we’ll do our best’ when we know perfectly well that our request is being sidelined. But there are other forms of words that are less easy to decode. A pragmatic rule that I use is to assume that the good thing (in this case CIQ at Bacolod-Silay airport) will not happen unless we are explicitly told that it will happen. Then I am not too disappointed when the favored outcome does not materialize.
John Orola has been making representations throughout this year to try to have the CIQ facility installed by September. This will enable one Korean tour operator J. Choi to market an attractive product so that a maximum of 18 chartered flights will arrive in Bacolod-Silay from Incheon between December 19 and February 2014. [cold in Korea, pleasantly warm here].
CIQ is needed at Bacolod-Silay sooner or later so it might as well be sooner. If the Philippines is to have an annual 10 million visitors by 2016, then we must have the facilities for these visitors to arrive non-stop at their destination airport which in most cases in assuredly not NAIA.
There is a recent proliferation of airlines which are owned, managed and run by people with a healthy entrepreneurial philosophy. This means they are always looking for potentially profitable routes. They are aware that passengers are price-sensitive, which has driven costs down and numbers up. This means that routes which were impossible only a few years ago become profitable now or will become so within the next few years.
International non-stop routes from Bacolod which I believe could become viable before the end of the next presidency (2022) include the following destinations (in no particular order): Incheon (of course) Hong Kong, Taipei, Beijing, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Phuket, Bali, Darwin, Singapore, Brisbane, Sydney, Tokyo, Osaka. There are many other possibilities.
As is well known, tourism is an important generator of employment. More employment means less poverty.
A key component of reducing poverty throughout the community, ensuring that poverty eradication is inclusive is to generate employment in what those in ‘Imperial Manille’ like to refer to, somewhat disparagingly, the ‘provinces’. This is where tourism is important and a key component to growth in tourism is to have easy nonstop access from faraway lands to our provincial airports.
CIQ at Bacolod-Silay is but a small step towards implementing a program which helps to ensure that our economic growth is inclusive.
We trust that this growth is not impaired by bureaucratic inertia.
‘Give us the tools and we will finish the job.’ -- Sir Winston Churchill (1894-1965) Radio Broadcast 9 February 1941
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on August 21, 2013.