PBBM: Rest areas to make PH 'tourism powerhouse' in Asia

By Filane Mikee Cervantes

May 17, 2024, 3:31 pm

<p>President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. <em>(RTVM screengrab)</em></p>

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. (RTVM screengrab)

MANILA – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Friday said the establishment of tourist rest areas (TRA) is an important initiative for the government to transform the Philippines into a "tourism powerhouse" in Asia.

In his speech during the inauguration of the TRA in Saud, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte, Marcos said the Philippines must step up its efforts to let the travelers' experience be "safe, convenient, and memorable" in the face of "stiff competition" from other countries.

He said several aspects of tourism are defined not just by beautiful beaches or accommodations, but also by the "ease" of traveling around and accessibility to the destinations.

"So, this TRA is an important initiative for us as we want to transform the Philippines into the tourism powerhouse in Asia. We are in very stiff competition. Thailand has done an extremely good job in promoting tourism. Korea has done a very, very good job doing that. Indonesia, the same thing. Vietnam, the same thing," Marcos said.

The TRA aims to cater to traveling tourists to and from popular destinations in Pagudpud and its neighboring municipalities.

The facility will provide basic tourist services and amenities, such as an information center, clean restrooms, charging stations, and a lounge for resting, among others, the President said.

The TRA also serves as a venue to highlight Filipino artistry and identity and support the livelihood of micro, small, and medium enterprises.

"It hosts a pasalubong (souvenir) center that features locally-made products, so the products that you will find here in Pagudpud are not the same products that you will find in Palawan, not the same products you will find in Samar. It will be sourced from the locals," Marcos said.

TRAs in eight locations around the country have already been completed, inaugurated, and turned over to local government units as of April this year, while the TRA site in Baguio City, which is undergoing development, is expected to be completed this May.

The eight TRAs are located in Roxas, Palawan; Medellin, Cebu; Carmen, Cebu; Carcar, Cebu; Moalboal, Cebu; Dauis, Bohol; Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon; and Island Garden City of Samal, Davao Del Norte.

At least 22 additional TRAs have been identified to serve local and foreign tourists traveling across the country. These are in Bulacan, Sultan Kudarat, Negros Occidental, Camarines Sur, Surigao Del Norte, Palawan, Antique, Iloilo, Guimaras, Albay, Batangas, Camarines Sur, Leyte, Eastern Samar, Mountain Province, Pangasinan, Batanes, Bohol, Tawi-Tawi, Misamis Oriental, Sulu, and Zamboanga.

President Marcos said the project is a good example of a whole-of-government approach to further develop the different sectors of government, such as tourism.

He particularly acknowledged the efforts of Mayor Rafael Ralph Benemerito and Ilocos Norte Governor Matthew Manotoc, Tourism Secretary Christina Frasco, and Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority.

"So, I enjoin everyone to ensure the success of our tourism initiatives [and] make the experiences of our travelers safe, convenient, and memorable," Marcos said.

Frasco, for her part, said the TRA project aligns seamlessly with the President's vision of transformation toward a Bagong Pilipinas (New Philippines).

"A Bagong Pilipinas where tourism is anchored on the strength of the Filipino identity where the Philippines competes globally as a tourism powerhouse," Frasco said.

"Together, with our President, we will continue to build a stronger and more vibrant tourism industry that showcases the best of the Philippines," she added.

10-fold hike in tourist arrivals

Aside from TRAs, Marcos said the government must build infrastructures and facilities to ensure ease in traveling and tourists’ easier access to the country’s top destinations.

He said the government’s focus is to improve regional gateways so that tourists visiting the country could go directly to regional destinations without transiting Manila.

“So, like in Cebu, you already have that facility. People can travel from abroad directly to Cebu,” he said.

He noted that the government is eyeing a 10-fold increase in tourist arrivals from the original Balikbayan program as the country targets to become Asia’s tourism powerhouse.

“Ang ambisyon natin doon (Our ambition is) one million tourists. That was the ambition. One million tourists can come back. And then kasama na doon ‘yung mga (including) overseas Filipinos. Kaya nagkaroon ng balikbayan box dahil hindi binubuwisan (They resorted to sending balikbayan box because that is not taxable),” Marcos said.

“Now, we are targeting 10 times that. And we have started to approach that but there are many aspects to tourism. It’s not just the beautiful beach. It’s not just the beautiful rest house or the nice hotels and the resorts that they stay in,” he said.

The Philippines’ Balikbayan Program was enacted in November 1989 to attract and encourage overseas Filipinos to visit the Philippines. (PNA)