Thursday, September 17, 2015

AKLAN: THE PLACE TO INVEST* By Peter Wallace Chairman, The Wallace Business Forum


*A paper presented during the Aklan Investment Forum held on July 17, 2015, Grande Royale  Restaurant, Andagao, Kalibo, Aklan.

Much of the world is in turmoil today with few countries doing well. GDP growth is slow everywhere, including here in Asia. The Philippines stands out in this morass with average growth over the past 5 years of 6.3 percent, and we estimate 6 percent this year and 6-7 percent next. The government says 7-8 percent for 2015, and the same for 2016, but the Philippines government is never right, we are never wrong.

But even at our lower estimate, it’s very good. The trouble is not every one benefits. A major weakness in government’s efforts has been to get the growth to everyone. The famous “trickle down” hasn’t trickled down. The poor are still poor, and the unemployed is still unemployed. Percentages have improved, but the real numbers – the numbers of people – haven’t, they’ve actually worsened. In 2010, an estimate 23 million Filipinos were poor, it’s around 25 million today; In 2010 some 2.8 million Filipinos didn’t have jobs, more than 4 million don’t have today (using the same definition, government changed the definition in 2005 to look better).

And growth hasn’t spread to the countryside, it’s been to Manila-centric. And that’s why this investment forum, here in Aklan, is so important. We need to get investment, need to create jobs nationwide.

Manilans aren’t any smarter than Aklanons, aren’t any better educated, aren’t any more willing to work. Manila doesn’t have more reliable power, doesn’t have better internet and wifi or cellsites, doesn’t have better roads. What it does have that the cities in Aklan don’t is traffic. Down here you can get to work effortlessly in but a short time.

Congressman Ted Haresco and Governor Florencio Miraflores are strongly pro-business, they’ve been in business, they know what business wants and how to provide it. Got a problem, go to them. They’ll solve it. There’s hunger for business here that is lost in the bureaucracy of Manila. You’ll get results down here. 

Aklan is famous for Boracay, a resort island one kilometer north from the tip of Panay. To say that the resort island is world famous is an understatement. This year, Boracay is chosen by Traveler’s Choice as the best beach in Asia. In 2012, the island was hailed as the 2nd best beach in the world. In addition, it was cited by Travel+Leisure magazine as the best island destination and one of the Top 10 best beach party destinations by

With 1.5 million tourists last year, Boracay hardly needs any promotion. But Boracay is not the only wonderful spot; Aklan has many beaches as, or almost as beautiful that can be developed similarly. There’s investment potential here. 

The economic benefits that Aklanons have received from Boracay are wide-ranging and hence, the sustainable development of the island must be aggressively pushed. I’m glad that a measure on this, filed by Congressman Ted Haresco, has been approved on third and final reading by the House of Representatives and has been transmitted to the Senate. Unfortunately, though the bill has not made any progress in the Upper Chamber and is still pending with the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, I hope pressure can be applied so that the Upper Chamber acts swiftly on the proposed measure.

Naturally, tourism is one of Aklan’s main industries, along with agriculture. But while the provincial government recognizes Aklan’s “vibrant tourism industry and substantial agriculture” the province is still among the Philippines’ poorest provinces with about a third of its population living below the poverty line. This is ironic given that tourism and agriculture are the industries with the most potential to lift rural households out of poverty.

To attract more tourists, Boracay’s and the entire province’s competitiveness must be improved. On a national scale, the Philippines has had some achievements but more needs to be done if the country’s top tourist destinations are to attract more high-spending tourists.

The Philippines’ ranking in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Travel and Tourism (T&T) Competitiveness Index 2015 improved to 74th out of 141 countries from 82nd last year. However, the Philippines has not been able to fully benefit from the improvement given the infrastructure and business regulatory environment barriers that still need to be addressed.

Among the 14 key tourism indicators, the country’s comparative advantage lies in price competitiveness, government prioritization of the tourism sector and international openness.

Price competitiveness includes all factors directly influencing the cost of travel – ticket fares, hotel prices, meals, and others. Majority of the Philippine-based airlines offer competitive air ticket prices while many hotels offer affordable accommodation prices. Those who travel to Boracay especially during LaBoracay (a term coined by beach lovers who flock to the island during May 1, Labor Day) can attest to the very affordable airfare and accommodation packages offered by local airlines and hotels.

In terms of prioritization, tourism is one of the priority programs of the national government this year. Out of the P2.6-trillion national budget for 2015, the government set aside P35.2 billion (Tourism Development Program) to boost the potential of the Philippines as a premiere tourist destination. The government has also declared 2015 as “Visit the Philippines Year” to promote the country’s tourist spot. Total tourists into the country have been increasing every year, much of it has been attributed to that clever slogan of Mon Jimenez, the It’s More Fun In The Philippines campaign that was started in 2012. (First of three parts)./MP

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