Tourism chief works double time to promote the best of PH
Wanda Corazon Tulfo-Teo has been busy promoting the Philippines for most of her professional life. It is in these times when she, along with her team at the Department of Tourism, has to work double time since the threat of terrorism can derail the gains they have already made.
She has prepared—and did her homework—after all.
“I’ve been in the business of selling the Philippines for 20 years,” she revealed. “As a travel and tours operator, I know the problems of the industry very well. When I came in as secretary, it didn’t require a lot of adjustment on my part. I’m just like the travel agent I have been for many years, only now I’m selling on a much larger scale.”
For her, every day is a new day to grab all the different opportunities presented to our country. Her determination to promote the Philippines as an exciting tourist destination is what compelled President Rodrigo Duterte to appoint her.
“When he called me up, I was shocked. It never crossed my mind. He knew I was very active in Davao as a travel agent so I think that is where he got the idea,” shared Teo.
Her appointment as tourism chief is her most public profile yet. She used to be a flight stewardess which exposed her to the world of travel. Eventually, she established Mt. Apo Travel and Tours, a travel agency based in Davao City. She became very active in the city’s tourism industry and served as president of Davao Travel Agencies Association (DATA) and Davao Association of Tour Operators (DATO), and chairman of the Network of Independent Travel Agencies (NITAS) Davao Chapter. She then served as the national president of the National Association of Independent Travel Agencies (NAITAS), said to be the largest association of independent travel agencies in the country with more than 400 members and 13 chapters all over the Philippines.
Today, when the secretary meets with other tourism ministers all over the world, she is equipped to sell the best of the Philippines. Being a woman is an advantage for her too as she “charms” her way to make sure the country is presented in a good light during travel expos or conventions. Even with a modest budget compared to the tourism budgets of our countries, she relies on the ingenuity, creativity and passion of the Filipino people to market the country effectively.
Increasing Tourist Arrivals
Teo was tasked by the President to boost tourist arrivals. This prompted her to travel to different countries, meeting tour operators to assess the international market’s demand and interest.
“They would tell me they would like to go to the Philippines because they’ve heard so much about our country,” the secretary said. “The problem is that they do not know how to sell our country. That’s also the feedback I received when I went to Poland and Madrid.”
DOT recently closed deal with Chinese state-owned Guangxi Tourism Development Group Co., Ltd. to mount chartered flights directly from Guangxi Province to Davao, Cebu, and Clark. This is expected to bring in an additional 10,000 Chinese tourists.
“This is why I’m doing double-time. There are so many opportunities that we should not miss,” she added. “This is in order to follow the order of the President to increase tourist arrivals.”
Teo was also part of the President’s state visit in Russia, a rich source of tourists.
One of nine bilateral agreements signed by the two countries is the Joint Action Program on Tourism Cooperation, which states that both parties will support each other in terms of tourism. Teo noted that Russia is listed among the “high growth markets” posting 9,152 arrivals from January to February of this year, reflecting a 29.24 percent increase from last year’s arrivals. They are also long-staying tourists, who prefer to vacation in the Philippines during the winter season in Russia.
Teo revealed that the two main challenges affecting the growth of the tourism sector are travel advisories and lack of infrastructure.
“Tour operators and owners panic when tourists cancel their bookings. I always tell them that there will always be cancellations but those are only temporary. They will always rebook and come back. It’s the natural tendency,” she said. “Having lived in Davao for many years, I’ve learned that travel advisories are not a cause for panic.”
She would even visit places perceived to be unsafe to prove these travel advisories wrong. She recently visited Zamboanga, a city often overlooked because of security issues, and saw for herself its potential as a tourist spot.
“I went to Grande Santa Cruz Island and found its pink beach really beautiful. I was there personally to show to the world that the island is safe, accessible and tourist-friendly,” she explained, adding that she wanted to promote off-the-beaten tourist destinations such as small towns and unique islands.
Airport congestion is also a concern but it is already being addressed with the promotion of secondary airports in Clark, Cebu, Davao, Palawan, and Cagayan de Oro to decongest Manila’s airports.
Sustainability and Inclusivity
The country is set to host the 6th United Nations World Tourism Organization International (UNWTO) Conference on Tourism Statistics next month with the theme “Measuring Sustainable Tourism.” A ministerial roundtable made up of top tourism officials, environment ministers, and chief statisticians from 156 countries serves as the highlight of the event. Affiliate members from the private sector, educational institutions, and tourism associations will also be in attendance.
Sustainability and inclusivity are the crucial elements in all of the DOT’s efforts and are the underlying factors set in the National Tourism Development Plan (NTDP) for 2016-2022.
As DOT aims to continuously improve the ranking of the Philippines in the World Economic Forum (WEF) Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index, they also want to make sure that more local communities are driven out of poverty, new jobs are created, and natural and cultural tourism assets are preserved.
Through the NTDP, DOT aims to achieve a higher level of contribution to the GDP at 14 percent by 2022 where overall revenue will be tripled to PhP 922 billion for inbound tourism and PhP 2.95 trillion in domestic tourism expenditure. The NTDP also foresees an additional 1.5 million people will be given employment while four million people will be lifted from poverty by the end of this administration.
“If we develop the underdeveloped destinations, we would be helping the farmers, the fishermen, and the poor people
in these areas. I came from the provinces so I know how hard it can be,” concluded Teo. “Through sustainable tourism, people from the provinces do not have to leave their hometowns and find a job in Manila. I want this to be my legacy: to help as many communities as I can.”