[OPINION] Without a revitalization program, Iloilo City tourism will remain yawning

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Iloilo City Mayor Jerry P. Treñas reported a stunning statistic: P7.4 billion estimated loss on total tourist receipts from March 17 to June 30. 

Mayor Treñas also shared that from March 15 to June 15, loss on hotels and accommodation was at P678.3 million and another P28 million loss due to cancelled events during the online forum hosted by the Iloilo Local Economic Development Foundation’s (ILED) 13th Annual General Membership Meeting. 

The figure is not bigtime yet for a city hailed as a ‘Wakanda’ to mirror its success in fighting the Coronavirus considering that those were estimated losses from March going to second quarter this year. It is already September, the last month of the third quarter, and the losses may now have eased in at an exponential level. 

Tourism suffered enormous losses. The statistics presented by Mayor Treñas illustrate the immense blow to the tourism sector. There is no stopping for its downhill trek because local Coronavirus cases have climbed at fattening curve levels.

This is unfortunate for a sector that is considered as a major contributor to the local economy. In 2017, tourist arrivals to Iloilo City was 1,076,976 and it increased in 2018 with 1,242,010 visitors. 

Around the same month last year, the Dept. of Tourism reported that Iloilo City had a total of 418,079 visitors. It was a partial data from the period January to July 2019 yet it generated P7.8 billion based from tourism receipts. 

It is now impossible to attain even just half of that level of tourism revenue because of the pandemic: P7.8-billion revenues in 2019 versus P7.4-billion estimated losses this 2020.

We have heard of lamentations from LGU officials and travel executives that tourism may serve as a spark for the reactivation of the local economy for the industry is a major revenue generator before the Coronavirus. 

A good question, however, is this: what are the steps being outlined by the Iloilo City Government on the area of tourism revitalization? There was something working before the pandemic, but what about during the pandemic, and assuming that the crisis will end sooner, after the pandemic.

The invisible plan. Is there a plan? It appears that there is one. Mayor Treñas discussed that the City Government has a “Business Service Area and Recovery Plan” made by USAID and it will be implemented with the help of the private sector.

The 3-point agenda generally looks like this: 1.) Examine the Local situation, capacities, and initial response undertaken by the City Government in responding to COVID-19 pandemic; 2.) Asses the associated risks brought about by the pandemic to the general population, business, and the local government administration; and 3.) Outline necessary initiatives to undertake in safeguarding the health of people, business, and communities while pursuing livelihood endeavors and economic activities.

The 3-point agenda is relevant for local tourism. Local tourism revitalization, however, requires a more detailed plan of action from the Iloilo City Tourism and Development Office. A plan of action is a formulated product that underwent participative consultation from industry stakeholders. This is perhaps the most effective way to attain what were outlined in the 3-point agenda. 

A local tourism revitalization plan that is LGU-centric is nothing but a well-guarded ‘dead sea scroll’ – an invisible plan to say the least, for it will not invite cooperation from various stakeholders. Cooperation is crucial for it is an element that ensures harmonious implementation so that its set of objectives will be attained. 

If the City Government can gain 1.7 million pieces of Pan de Sal support from bakers between April to May, then perhaps political consideration, overlapping priorities, limited resources, and restricted mobility may have hindered the development of a plan of action.

Revitalization requires a program. Agenda No. 3 emphasized the formulation of “necessary initiatives to undertake in safeguarding the health of people, business, and communities while pursuing livelihood endeavors and economic activities.” 

This is great. But we cannot see nor feel that there is a program that propel these words into action seven months into fighting the Coronavirus. A program ensures the coordinated implementation of an effort from various units of the LGU, including legislative and resource support. Lack of a unified understanding of the task needed to attain the objectives and political considerations do not make an effective program. 

It is also worth noting that photo contests, vlogging competitions, and intensive Facebook postings that aims to promote Iloilo City under the period of the pandemic are cosmetic promotions when these types of effort are not anchored on a program.

Essentially, programs are implemented by LGU units like the Iloilo City Tourism and Development Office in coordination with various offices, including the executive. It cannot be materialized by one person like Mayor Jerry Treñas for he is so occupied by the day-to-day governance work and the management of the health crisis. 

Reactivation needs a campaign. Campaigns gets a politician elected. If a mayoral candidate can get elected after a 40+ day campaign, then logically, it can be said that campaigns can likewise deliver revitalization plans to its proper realization. 

A campaign outlines the essential activities that includes proper communication initiatives to inform the public and to gather their cooperation and support. The P7.8-billion revenues from tourism receipts in 2019 did not popped-up from an invisible plan or from an obscure program. It was not accomplished using a word of mouth marketing or through a 24/7 Facebook presence. 

Attaining revenue targets are products of a programmatic campaigning from the Dept. of Tourism down to regions and cities based on their strengths and priority focus like what happened to Meetings, Incentive Travels, Conferences/Conventions, Exhibitions/Events (MICE) which resulted to “Meet You in Iloilo” campaign in October 2019. 

#BatoIloilo is an attractive motivational hashtag, but it is not anchored on a program. Even if the Iloilo City Government will produce 1-million T-Shirts printed with its graphics, #BatoIloilo will remain as such unless the hashtag becomes a component of a campaign program. It will not systematically revitalize the local economy although it will benefit the T-Shirt printer, the buyer, and the politician figure behind the hashtag.

The Iloilo City Government through Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas is investing a lot of effort on Facebook presence and through everyday radio interviews. It appears that they are enjoying Facebook likes, hearts, shares, and winning praises from a virtual audience through walloping gender insensitive soundbites, and – of course – occasion tears. We all cry these days.

It has been like that since March and that is the reason why the tourism cluster of our local economy is yawning. (Un)Happy Tourism Month!

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