Thursday, December 8, 2016


by Roger Pe
December 8, 2016 issue
Business Mirror

When asked on how the Philippines is preparing for its sixth, seventh or eighth million foreign visitor, Department of Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo gave a visionary answer: “I want to compete with Bangkok and the best of Asia. I want to take the Philippines to where it has never been.”

Teo spoke in a press conference and thanksgiving dinner for all tourism supporters in Region 9 in Zamboanga City over the weekend. She said people should see the big picture and not take tourism on a piecemeal or per million basis.

In order to be competitive, she wants the Philippines to be ready, regardless of the number, and that means, meeting global standards and continuously improving our tourism product.

Thailand and Malaysia are currently locked in the battle for number one ranking in Asean tourist arrival ranking while China is way, way ahead of the pack taking the world’s No. 2 position behind France.

According MasterCard's 2015 Asia Pacific Destinations Index, Thailand dominated as the most popular regional travel destination last year, with three of its cities making the Top 10. Bangkok was the most popular city by arrivals, total nights stayed and total amount spent, based on findings sourced primarily from national tourism boards.

The survey was based on 167 destinations from 22 countries across Asia Pacific, and represent 90.1 percent of all international overnight arrivals in the region, MasterCard said. The Thai capital saw 21.9 million international overnight visitors in 2015, a 28.6 percent increase from the previous year.

China, on the other hand, is the top travel destination in Asia for world's tourists, according to the latest figures published by the World Bank. 83 million tourists visited China in 2014, making the country the first among 10 most visited countries in Asia. Since the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, tourism has become a national priority in China and the country acknowledges its importance as a driving force for economic development.

The World Bank ranked Malaysia as second most visited country in Asia with 29,437,000 tourists. “Malaysia has identified tourism as a key growth area to transform the country into a high-income nation by targeting of 36 million tourist arrivals in 2020,” it said. Thailand is third with almost the same figure as that of Malaysia, generating around 31.2 billion US dollars in 2014. South Korea is 4th with 14 million, Japan is 5th with 13 million, Singapore is 6th with 11 million, Indonesia is 7th with 9 million and Vietnam 8th with 7.8 million.

Spread the good news

Tourism now is like a Facebook relationship, according to Teo. “It has become complicated and the world instantaneously knows an experience, good or bad. That impacts any place in the world. We should all be purveyors of good news about our country’s tourism attractions,” she said.

Teo said tourism has also become a channel for peace and removing barriers that set people and countries apart. “We should remove all these barriers,” she said.

Born in Kidapawan, Cotabato and graduated with a Business Administration degree from Saint Theresa’s College Quezon City, the pride of Mindanao Teo knows what she is talking about. Afterall, she spent most of her professional life in the country’s tourism industry - first, as a stewardess of Filipinas Orient Airways, PAL’s main competitor a couple of years back, and Air Niugini, (Papua New Guinea’s national airline), and second, as a travel operator herself.

As President and CEO of her own company (Mt. Apo Travel and Tours Inc.), Teo pioneered in promoting Davao City as a leading tourist attraction, eventually becoming President of Davao Association of Tour Operators (DATO) and Davao Travel Agencies Association (DTAA).

An achievement-laden career followed, among them as President of National Association of Independent Travel Agencies (NAITAS), the biggest travel agency organization in the Philippines with more than 400 members and 13 chapters, Chairman, Network of Independent Travel Agencies, Davao, and 2nd Vice President of National Association of Travel Agents.

Teo was the brains behind the NAITAS Travel and Trade Show, still considered today as the Philippines’ liveliest travel, tourism technology and trade fair.

She also participated in various tourism conferences abroad like the CTW (Corporate Travel World) Asia-Pacific in Bangkok, ITB (Internationale Tourismusborse) in Berlin and the BIMP-EAGA (Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East Asean Growth Area) Trade Tourism and Investment Forum in Malaysia.

Teo flew to Zamboanga to personally show to everyone that it is safe just like any peace-loving city in the world. More than that, she pitched for Zamboanga and encouraged people to dwell on its beauty and undiscovered places rather than talk about things that well not enhance our country’s tourism growth.

She likewise mentioned Zamboanga’s historic and culturally rich Spanish and American heritage that should never be forgotten by new generation of Filipinos, a cultural heirloom that is heartening just as it is enriching.

She called Zamboanga “my home” (she lived in the city for over 5 years) and was happy to announce that DOT, in cooperation with TIEZA (Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority) will help improve one of its star attractions - Sta. Cruz Island.

“Tourism facilities will have to be upgraded here to make them attractive and on par with more developed tourist destinations. Part of scaling up is improving these facilities to ensure that tourism activities are also managed sustainably,” she said.

Sta. Cruz Island is a Zamboanga gem, just a 20-minute native speedboat ride from the city proper. It boasts of a long stretch of white beach, sprinkled by nature with red grains of sand. It appears pink under the glistening sun, a natural phenomenon and reputedly one of only three of its kind in the world.

Nature lovers would definitely love the island’s raw beauty. On a boat trip around the island’s vast mangrove forests, one would see century-old trees, covering a beautiful lagoon that is home to migratory birds, teeming marine life and edible “Lato” seaweeds that carpet the seabed.

As you paddle along and snake through the winding brackish water vegetation, look under. See those little creatures escorting your fluvial trip? They are thousands and thousands of stingless jellyfish, as if saying, “Bienvenido de Zamboanga, buen dia.” (Chavacano for “Welcome to Zamboanga and have a nice day”).

How is Teo tackling threats to tourism, especially modern-day hazards like security?

She emphasized that even the world’s most visited city, Paris, has encountered real threats, but one thing is sure - the government is very much aware of it and is working for peace. She reiterated that the Philippines should be promoted properly and we should do it aggressively in order to increase our country’s tourist number at a faster rate.”

Blooming Zamboanga
One could see that urban developments are sprouting beautifully around the City of Flowers, adding colors to the city’s “Zamboanga Hermosa” brand name. The new ones are a joy to see - clean, better designed and with emphasis on the aesthetics. It is also heritage conscious, notably, when you stroll back in time along historic Calle Madrid, now Valderosa Street.

Assistant DOT Tourism Secretary Ricky Alegre, amplified Teo’s sentiments. “The best way to neautralize negative stories is to positivize.
Why would the best people in the country’s tourism industry want to promote Zamboanga? Because of many wrong perceptions,” he said.
“There are many good stories about Zamboanga than bad stories. We should be focusing on them rather than trying to bring them back,” Alegre said.

For one, he mentioned the spirit of the Filipino, which is also the spirit of the Zamboanguenos.
That spirit makes us different compared to other Asians. We are one of the world’s friendliest and welcoming people. We are the most hospitable, even smiling during difficult times. That spirit, we hope to capture when we launch the new Philippine tourism campaign in the coming Miss Universe Beauty Pageant,” he said.

At the center of it all will be the Filipino, Alegre added. “It will not be biased to a particular destination but will sell the whole Philippines with an emotional hug.”

When asked if the Level 3 alert will affect tourism traffic, Alegre took it as a very positive sign for the tourism industry. “It means tourists are secured and peace and order is in place. Then, we have nothing to fear,” he said.

At the Region 9 Stakeholder’s Meeting and Forum, Alegre made an impassioned appeal: “We are all stakeholders of this country. We have a stake in promoting it, including those that are not too familiar. We are all ambassadors of the Philippines. We all have to work together.”

Alegre noted that, while Thailand is a borderless country like Malaysia, Vietnam and, in a way, Singapore, (tourists can easily pass through in and out by land), 99% of tourists come to the Philippines by air.

“It poses a great challenge to us, but then, again, we need to positivize. All it takes is to promote strategically, aggressively and put in the best advertising - more good stories about the Philippines,” he said.

Rich history of Zamboanga*

Zamboanga was a settlement established by the Subanon ethic group before the Spanish came. The peninsula that it belonged to was also the homeland of the ancestors of Yakans, Balangguinguis and Sama-Badjaos. The Tausogs from Sulu and islands further south started migrating to Zamboanga at the beginning of the 13th century. They became the dominant ethnic group after they were Islamized in 14th century.

The name Zamboanga came from two theories: The Spanish pronunciation and spelling of the word “Sinama” ("mooring place") and what etymologists say that it came from the word “samboangan” (from the word jambangan, a metaphor for a "place of flowers" that also means a melting pot for all ethnic Malay groups).

Spanish explorers arrived in Zamboanga in 1569 after discovering the archipelago in 1521. It served as a military outpost against foreign invaders and Moro pirates. Latin American armies from Peru and Mexico, as well as recruited troops from Pampanga, Bohol, Cebu and Iloilo protected the area.

Upon the declaration of King Philip IV of Spain,
Zamboanga rose as the main headquarters of Spain in Mindanao on June 23, 1635, subsequently emerging as one of the Philippines’ main trading ports to most of Europe, Southeast Asia and Latin America for centuries.

After that, more Spanish troops came, headed by a governor general from Spain, and built the first Zamboanga fortress (now called Fort Pilar). The fortress witnessed a number of battles between Moros and Spanish soldiers while Spain ruled the region from 16th to 18th centuries.

When the Chinese Koxinga army threatened to invade the Philippines in 1662, Spain was forced to temporarily abandon Zamboanga, withdrew its soldiers and retreated to Manila.

As the region was being drawn to Catholicism, Muslims kept its struggle against Spanish colonizers. More foreign invaders likewise came, a British naval squadron among them. It raided the settlement in 1798 but was driven off by Zamboanga’s strong army resistance.

By 1831, Zamboanga was an established port and became an important center for direct communication and trading hub to most of Europe, Southeast Asia and Latin America.

American Rule

After Spain ceded the Philippines to the US in 1898, Americans started arriving in Zamboanga. It found a “Republic of Zamboanga” established by General Vicente Alvarez in 1899. It was a shortlived government, however and dissolved in 1903 as authorized by Governor William Howard Taft, leading to the creation of Moro Province (whole of Mindanao, except Palawan and eastern portion of the northwest peninsula of the island).

Zamboanga hosted a number of American regional governors during this period, including the famous General John Pershing. By 1913, Pershing advised that the Moro Province needed to transition to civil government (until 1911, every district governor and secretary had been a military officer).

On July 23, 1914, the Moro Province was officially replaced by an agency named Department of Mindanao and Sulu. It was dissolved in 1920 and Zamboanga became an independent province, and the town center inaugurated as a city in 1936.

Asia’s only Latin City

There are hundreds of things to see and enjoy in Zamboanga. Here are a few:

Fort Pilar. Founded in 1635 as a garrison during the Spanish era and now serves as a shrine, an important historical landmark in Zamboanga City. Houses a National Museum branch that represents the bygone era of Zamboanga as a Spanish City.

Pasonanca Park. A botanical park built in 1912 by the order of Mindanao Governor John J. Pershing and completed under the administration of Governor Frank W. Carpenter.

Zamboanga City Hall. A 100-year old seat of government built in 1905 by the Federal Government of the United States for the then American Governors.

Cawa-Cawa Boulevard. A scenic place to visit, early in the morning for a quick walk or jog, also a wonderful place to drop by for watching a glorious sunset.

Sta. Cruz Islands. Known for its pink sand beaches. Its adjacent little sister island has a typical white beach. There is a diving site and a lagoon full of thousands and thousand of jellyfish and crunchy “Agar-Agar Lato” (edible sea weed).

Zamboanga Golf Course and Beach. Oldest Golf Course in the Philippines, designed during the American rule.

Old Normal School Building. Built during the American era, now known as the Western Mindanao State University (WMSU), also houses a museum.

Serenity Falls. Located at the foot of EcoZone’s south entrance, very invigorating and worth the trip.

La Vista del Mar and Honorory Consulate of Spain. A beach resort with a restaurant that serves fresh seafood that includes the “Curacha”, has a beautiful view of the sea and home of the Honorary Consulate of Spain.

Passionate tourism ambassadors

Zamboanga has a vibrant local tourism industry. Zamboangenos innate welcoming nature can be felt the moment you step into the city. Tourism foot soldiers abound, proud about its history, culture, food, people, natural beauty and many more. Perhaps no one can be as passionate as Errold Bayona, our tourist guide, who, at some point in our trip, literally walked us through fascinating places in the city.

There is no day that Bayona does not enrich visitors with knowledge about Zamboanga and Mindanao. Seeing visitors enjoy a wonderful Zamboanga experience already makes his day.

The founding president of AGTZ (Associacion del Guia Turistico del Zamboanga, (association of tour guides of Zamboanga) faced a tough and lonely challenge when he was starting to make a name in Zamboanga’s tourism firmament.

“I want to help change the outside world’s perception of Zamboanga. I don’t want my children to entertain negative thoughts about my city. There’s no reason to fear because my home is just as safe as the safest place in the world,” he said. No wonder he has received a number of token of appreciation, among them from Zamboanga’s provincial government (Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga Sibugay).

Being a wide reader, Bayona once found myself looking at the Philippine map and asked, “Where am I and how will I impact and inspire my young generation?” He found Zamboanga and told himself: “Information is vital to education, and education is the answer to ignorance.”

Bayona hated everything that was not being taught in school. He was young and ambitious at the same time called himself, a patriot. He often asked himself, “How can I make this work?”
In wanting to make a difference and for people to have a better perception of Zamboanga, he found his calling. He found Tourism.

“I write my citizenship in every document as a Filipino. Though I sometimes feel otherwise, it does not stop me from believing that I am. I was born a Filipino, and inbv my own little way, as long as I live, and as much as I can, I will pursue that path to be a Filipino, and make Zamboanga part of me. Tourism is my key to that,” he confided.

Only Spanish-speaking people in Asia
People of Zamboanga speak Chavacano, a language that is 70% Spanish and 30% Ilonggo, Cebuano and Tagalog. The only Spanish-based creole language in Asia, it is one of the oldest creole languages in the world.

Chavacano is based on Mexican, Spanish and Portuguese languages. Most words are common with those spoken in Andalucia, Spain but there are many words borrowed from Nahuati, a language native to Central Mexico.

Although the vocabulary is largely Mexican, its grammar is mostly based on other Philippine languages. Chavacano is also spoken in the town of Semporna, eastern coast of Sabah, Malaysia, not surprising because it is close to Sulu and Zamboanga Peninsula.

Ateneo de Zamboanga University

The school began in 1912 as Escuela Catolica, a parochial school run by Spanish Jesuits. It expanded in 1916 and became Ateneo Elementary School and renamed Ateneo de Zamboanga when its high school opened in 1928. The first high school students graduated from Ateneo in 1932, among them Roseller T. Lim, who would become the first ZamboangueƱo senator of the Philippines. It was officially declared a university on August 20, 2001 and granted autonomous status.

Pacman as tourism ambassador

Meanwhile, DOT welcomes the offer of Senator Manny Pacquiao as Philippine tourism ambassador to help boost international visitor arrivals in the country.

“Pacquiao is a living hero who has earned the world’s admiration and given honor to the country. He personifies the Filipino’s resiliency and our people’s genuine hospitality,” DOT Secretary Teo said. She lauded Pacquiao and encouraged every Filipino, especially the youth, to emulate the boxing icon’s sense of volunteerism in promoting our world-class destinations.
“This is a great Christmas gift to DOT, especially as preparations are now in full swing for the country’s hosting of the 2016 Miss Universe Pageant,” Teo said.

The DOT head said she foresees a knockout win with Pacquiao and Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach leading as Philippine tourism ambassadors to the world. "We can probably triple our visitor arrivals!," Teo exclaimed in jest.

Pacquiao, among other lawmakers, reportedly noted that DOT has had a significantly low budget for tourism promotion compared to neighboring countries like Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and even Vietnam.

*Source: Zamboanga DOT Tourism Office