PUTTING more teeth into policies that discourage foreign dive instructors from working without a permit must be the focus of the government, according to a local dive shop operator.

Not only do they take jobs away from local dive instructors who possess valid work permits, but they also pose challenges to the growing diving industry in terms of safety and compliance with regulations, said Gary Cases, a dive operator in Malapascua, an island in Daanbantayan, northern Cebu.

Language barrier has contributed to the problem on colorum or unlicensed dive instructors, as foreign tourists often hire instructors from their own country as they speak the same language, said Cases, who was among the more than 300 participants in the first day of the inaugural Philippine Tourism Dive Dialogue, which is hosted by the Department of Tourism (DOT). It started on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, at the Fili Hotel in Nustar Cebu.

The businessman mentioned diving enthusiasts coming from China.

“These divers get the services of Chinese dive shops and hire Chinese dive instructors,” said Cases of DiveLink Cebu.

Not an excuse

However, Cases believes that the language issue should not excuse foreign dive instructors’ failure to get work permits.

“When we go to other countries and seek for work, we get work permits. They should do the same here,” he said.

“They can work here. We aren’t telling them not to work here. But they need to get permits. The proper work permits and, of course, we will welcome them,” he added.

The two-day Dive Dialogue, ending on Friday, Sept. 15, aims to address current issues in diving tourism, promote collaboration among public and private stakeholders, advocate for sustainable practices, and most importantly, foster the growth of dive tourism in the Philippines.

DOLE order

Cases said he hopes that relevant government agencies, led by the DOT, will address this long-standing concern within the diving community, especially given the continued influx of divers from China, Taiwan, and other parts of the world to the island.

Under the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Department Order 221, Series of 2021, foreign nationals working in the Philippines without an Alien Employment Permit (AEP) and the companies employing them are subject to a fine of P10,000.

Apart from this, they are also barred from filing an AEP for five years.

In May this year, Daanbantayan Sun Shimura ordered the suspension of the hiring of foreigners as dive instructors without AEP from DOLE following the complaint filed by the Malapascua Business Association during their meeting in April.

Shimura warned dive resorts and dive shops on the island, who employ foreigners to comply with the country’s labor law.

Asia’s leading dive destination

The Philippines clinched for the fifth consecutive year the Asia’s Leading Dive Destination title at the preeminent World Travel Awards Asia and Oceania Gala Ceremony 2023 in Vietnam. The award was based on public votes and validation from the group’s panel of travel professionals.

“We are blessed with being one of only 18 mega biodiverse countries in the world and therefore, it behooves us to come together to ensure that we sustain the dive tourism industry for the long run,”said Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco, during her keynote speech. Frasco is a dive advocate and a certified diver herself.

“We are taking this bold step of convergence so that our diverse stakeholders in the tourism industry may feel the hand of government reach out to them, so we may be able to understand the challenges that you face and adjust policy accordingly, if necessary,” she added.

The DOT has established a Dive Committee to align and coordinate the efforts of concerned agencies, synchronize dive-related programs, create a strategic road map, and build a robust network for seamless implementation.

In 2022, Frasco said there was an estimated P37 billion in tourist receipts from international dive visitors coming into the Philippines, constituting over 17.5 percent of the total tourism receipts for the year.

In an interview, Frasco said they hope to exceed last year’s count as both the government and industry stakeholders collaborate to protect and advance the country’s dive tourism.

To ensure dive safety, Frasco announced that procurement is now underway for delivery by 2024 of four additional hyperbaric chambers for Dumaguete, Boracay, Puerto Galera, and Daanbantayan. This is in addition to the current four hyperbaric chambers in operations in Batangas, Bohol, Mandaue, and Puerto Princesa.

The two-day Dive Dialogue will end with a coastal cleanup on one of the beaches on Mactan Island in the morning of Friday, Sept. 15, and a business-to-business matching in the afternoon.