The Philippine Star

Cheers for tourism and balikbayan­s

- 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 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.

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