Cheers for tourism and ba­lik­bayans

The Philippine Star - - BUSINESS - REY GAM­BOA Should you wish to share any in­sights, write me at Link Edge, 25th Floor, 139 Cor­po­rate Cen­ter, Valero Street, Sal­cedo Vil­lage, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at rey­dgam­[email protected]­hoo.com. For a com­pi­la­tion of pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cles, visit www.Bi­zlinksP

While the Christ­mas sea­son gen­er­ally con­notes in­creased traf­fic on our al­ready congested ur­ban road for most Filipinos, it also is the time when many of our kababayans liv­ing and work­ing abroad take their va­ca­tions in the Philip­pines.

For the De­part­ment of Tourism (DOT), De­cem­ber may not be a month when tourist ar­rivals are at its high­est, but some ef­fort is still ex­pended to en­sure that our rel­a­tives’ vis­its are max­i­mized. One such is the re­vival of the “Bring Home a Friend (BHAF)” pro­gram.

Launched dur­ing in Oc­to­ber, the re­fer­ral in­cen­tive pro­gram is a pro­mo­tions pitch by the DOT aimed at achiev­ing its seven mil­lion in­bound vis­i­tors tar­get. An ad­di­tional 70,000 to 100,000 tourist ar­rivals are ex­pected from the pro­gram.

Big­ger prizes

Over­seas Filipinos, as well as those re­sid­ing here, are en­cour­aged to in­vite to the Philip­pines their for­eigner friends, and thereby get a chance to win some in­ter­est­ing prizes, in­clud­ing a con­do­minium unit from Me­ga­world Corp. Like­wise, lucky “friends” en­rolled in the pro­gram win prizes.

The tourist pro­mo­tions cam­paign will run un­til April 15 next year, in recog­ni­tion of the fact that Oc­to­ber to April are not the pre­ferred months of travel to the Philip­pines by for­eign tourists, even if we Filipinos find the cli­mate dur­ing this pe­riod as prefer­able than the in­tense sum­mer heat of May, June and July.

It was Mina Ga­bor who first came up with the BHAF idea, and in­tro­duced it in 1994. Ga­bor, a staunch sup­porter and ad­vo­cate of Philip­pine tourism, later be­came tourism sec­re­tary. De­spite its suc­cess, the BHAF pro­gram was dis­con­tin­ued af­ter three years.

Word of mouth

Cur­rent Tourism Sec­re­tary Wanda Teo chose to re­vive it based on a sur­vey con­ducted by the DOT last year which in­di­cated that one out of ev­ery two tourists who en­tered the coun­try said they were en­ticed by a friend’s rec­om­men­da­tion.

Teo be­lieves in the power of word-of-mouth, which is why she de­cided to re­vive the pop­u­lar pro­gram. Since Oc­to­ber, the DOT has been busy pro­mot­ing BHAF among Filipino com­mu­ni­ties abroad — mostly the Mid­dle East and the US — as well as lo­cally.

With 10 mil­lion Filipinos work­ing abroad, it is easy to imag­ine how the BHAF pro­gram can be­come a po­tent tourism tool to boost in­ter­est in the Philip­pines.

Noth­ing would seem more cred­i­ble to a po­ten­tial tourist to the Philip­pines than a Filipino speak­ing about the breath­tak­ing sights, warmth, and hos­pi­tal­ity of his coun­try and its peo­ple.

The DOT has passed the 3.5 mil­lion vis­i­tors mark at the be­gin­ning of the sec­ond half of 2017, and is pretty con­fi­dent that the seven-mil­lion-mark will eas­ily be within reach be­fore the end of the year.

Tax­a­tion re­view

How­ever, the Philip­pines’ tourist ar­rivals sta­tis­tics con­tinue to be on the low side com­pared to its nine other ASEAN neigh­bors. In a study con­ducted by the Na­tional Tax Re­search Cen­ter, the Philip­pines at­tracted only 29 mil­lion tourists from 2011 to 2016, to rank 6th only.

This fig­ure pales in com­par­i­son to Malaysia’s 155.4 mil­lion, Thai­land’s 155.3 mil­lion, Sin­ga­pore’s 86.5 mil­lion, In­done­sia’s 56.4 mil­lion, and Viet­nam’s 46.3 mil­lion tourist ar­rivals dur­ing the same pe­riod.

Thus, the NTRC rec­om­mends that any ad­di­tional taxes on in­bound tourists need to be se­ri­ously thought out by the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion’s eco­nomic team, oth­er­wise it may ad­versely ef­fect tourism in­come and the gov­ern­ment ef­forts to build a strong tourism in­dus­try.

Ad­mit­tedly, im­pos­ing higher taxes on in­bound tourists to partly fi­nance the many in­fra­struc­ture projects that the gov­ern­ment en­vi­sions seems to be an un­fair propo­si­tion given the state of our hos­pi­tal­ity and travel fa­cil­i­ties.

Let’s im­pose higher taxes when we’re ready to en­sure that our vis­i­tors will en­joy their stay in the coun­try — un­less we re­ally are hell bent on killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

Gifts from OFWs

Good news for our ba­lik­bayan coun­try­men over the sus­pen­sion of an ear­lier de­part­men­tal ad­min­is­tra­tive or­der of the Bureau of Cus­toms on ba­lik­bayan boxes shipped to the Philip­pines from abroad.

Many over­seas Filipino work­ers com­plained of the sever­ity of the re­vised guide­lines, in­clud­ing one that re­quires senders to de­clare in detail the con­tents of the ba­lik­bayan boxes, present pur­chase re­ceipts of brand new goods, and proof that the sender and re­ceivers are in fact rel­a­tives.

Any Filipino who has had deal­ings with the BOC will im­me­di­ately sense the se­cu­rity risks of hav­ing de­tailed list­ings of the box con­tents. This will also not just de­lay the pro­cess­ing of the car­goes, but would make them vul­ner­a­ble to theft.

The sus­pen­sion or­der is timely given the surge in ba­lik­bayan boxes sent home by Filipinos work­ing abroad in time for the Christ­mas hol­i­day’s spirit of gift giv­ing.

Face­book and Twit­ter

We are ac­tively us­ing two so­cial net­work­ing web­sites to reach out more of­ten and even in­ter­act with and en­gage our read­ers, friends and col­leagues in the var­i­ous ar­eas of in­ter­est that I tackle in my col­umn. Please like us at www.face­book.com and fol­low us at www.twit­ter.com/ReyGam­boa.

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