PH gov't to invest $23B in tourism infrastructure

STAR ATTRACTION. Boracay Island lies within the 'Turquoise Triangle' which the government hopes will draw more cruise ships. Rappler file photo

STAR ATTRACTION. Boracay Island lies within the 'Turquoise Triangle' which the government hopes will draw more cruise ships.

Rappler file photo

MANILA, Philippines – The government plans to spend $23 billion on tourism infrastructure over the next 6 years, tagging it as a major growth engine.

Under the government's new 6-year National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP), the Philippines aims "to make the sector not only sustainable and highly competitive in the region but also socially responsible to propel inclusive growth," said Finance Undersecretary Karen Singson in a statement on Monday, November 28.

"As many renowned tourist sites in the Philippines, such as the Banaue Rice Terraces, the Chocolate Hills, and Mt Apo require long road travel, the Tourism Development Plan has also included the upgrading and construction of access roads to tourism sites and tourism development areas," Singson added.

The effects of the investment, she explained, will be felt immediately in road networks. Under the plan, up to 2,620 kilometers of roads will be built until 2022, from a baseline of 900 kilometers, which in itself will require an investment of $2 billion.

The NTDP is also anchored on major infrastructure development initiatives which include the improvement of airports in 11 tourism gateways.

The plan will also focus on adding or upgrading cruise ports, railways, site infrastructure, tourism enterprise zones, transport units, accommodation facilities, and aircraft acquisition.

Singson noted that tourism accounted for an increase in GDP of 1.11 percentage points last year and has become the third largest sector behind trade and real estate.

The government's goal is to double the number of foreign tourist arrivals, increase tourism revenues by 90%, and generate 14.4% of total Philippine jobs from the tourism sector by 2022. 

Brightening the cruise industry

The government also plans on developing new tourism avenues such as the cruise industry, which Singson noted saw an increase in port calls by 67% between 2013 and 2015.

The NTDP, Singson said, includes the development of the "Turquoise and North Triangles" covering the best cruise destinations in the northern and central Philippines, an international cruise port and marina in Manila, as well as the improvement of ports and ferry services in the central Philippines, the most dispersed section of the archipelago. 

"In 6 years time, ship calls to the Philippines will increase by as much as six-fold and visitor arrivals from cruise tourism will increase by as much as 800%," Singson said.

Other initiatives include the implementation of an advance passenger information system, electronic visa and visa-upon-arrival processing, new air services in international gateways, and the simplification of port immigration and quarantine policies.

Singson added that the NTDP also aims to improve and harmonize service standards in the industry by providing grants for tourism skills development as well as upgrading the curriculum and quality of tourism courses, among others.

Tourism zones

The government is also looking to increase private investment into the sector by promoting flagship tourism enterprise zones (TEZs).

Similar to special economic zones, TEZs are masterplanned projects in tourism hotspots or potential ones that provide ready-made infrastructure and incentives to locaters, Singson explained.

The country has only 5 TEZs, so far. Two in Luzon – in Rizal Park and in Mt Samat; one in the central Philippines – Panglao Island, Bohol; one in the western Philippines – San Vicente, Palawan; and one in the southern Philippines – Bucas Grande, Surigao.

Despite the planned development in the tourism sector, however, the Department of Tourism's proposed budget for next year is down by 32%. Lawmakers have urged the agency to ask for an increase. – Rappler.com