During Senate deliberations on theP3.37-billion budget of the Department of Tourism for 2019, Sen. Richard Gordon raised the idea that aside from master plans for the infrastructure development of our major tourist attractions, there should also be promotions programs that weave together and showcase the historical and cultural significance of the sites.
In short, Senator Gordon urged our tourism officials to leverage stories about our country to attract more people to visit and boost our tourism industry. He cited how the route from Bataan all the way to Tarlac, passing through Pampanga, is a memorial to the Bataan Death March. Malolos, Bulacan could be propped up further as the Constitution Capital of the Philippines, while Cavite could be made more attractive as revolutionary heart of the country.
In Manila alone, an expansive tourism story can be woven, starting from Intramuros and emanating to Chinatown, Quiapo, and Escolta on one side and to Manila Hotel, Rizal Park, the Oceanarium, all the way to Roxas Boulevard, on the other.
I am reminded of the efforts of my late father, Sen. Edgardo J. Angara. He spearheaded the construction of a museum in Baler, Aurora to showcase how our hometown is the birthplace of President Manuel L. Quezon and the site of the historic siege of Baler, the last hold-out of the Spanish Empire in the Philippines.
Such narratives, coupled with the draw of prime surfing spots, pristine waterfalls and lush greenery, are helping draw tourists — both local and foreign — to Baler and the rest of Aurora province today.
We couldn’t agree more with Senator Gordon’s points about using storytelling as a tourism development strategy, not least because it demands synergy and fosters linkages among business establishments, heritage groups, people’s organizations and the government. Grand narratives need communal action.
One could argue that our lackluster ability to preserve, sustain and showcase grand narratives is part of the reason our tourism continues to lag behind our neighbors. According to the World Bank, we only attracted 5.361 million foreign tourist arrivals in 2017, compared to Thailand’s 29.923 million; Malaysia’s 25.721 million; Singapore’s 12.051 million; Indonesia’s 10.407 million and Vietnam’s 7.944 million.
This isn’t to say that we do not have great stories to tell. On the contrary, we have centuries’ worth of heritage and history. One narrative we have yet to showcase is our pivotal role in the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade. With ships leaving our docks for the Americas, carrying goods from up to 20 Asian countries, we played a decisive role in this veritable precursor to modern-day globalization.
Boosting our tourism does entail huge investments in infrastructure — in roads, bridges, airports and seaports, as well as hotels and other forms of accommodation. But it also demands us to look into our heritage — the stories we collectively hold as a nation.
Sen. Sonny Angara was elected in 2013, and now chairs the Senate committees on local government, and ways and means. (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara)/WDJ