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_Davao City, Philippines Monday | February 13, 2006

Letters to the Editor
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Tourism Windfall?

As Davao City increasingly embraces tourism to boost its economy, it faces the challenge of tempering tourism's ugly side.

By Grace S. Uddin

DAVAO CITY - Like many Davaoenos, Danilo Dungog, a 34-year-old pump-boat operator who transports tourists to and from Samal Island , was ecstatic over the holding in this city of the recent ASEAN Tourism Forum. "We are happy because these foreigners will go to the beach ," Dungog said a few days before the forum formally opened.

Dungog has been supporting his wife and two children from his earnings as a pump-boat operator in the past 10 years. His boat carries a maximum of 20 people, each paying 10 pesos. Because part of theASEAN Tourism Forum's focus was Samal Island , Dungog was understandably excited.


Like Dungog, Ernie Espinosa, 30, is also a pump-boat operator. "We barely survive," he said about his income from his boat. For the two men, a brisk tourism sector can be a lifeline that could save them in these trying times.

Government and tourism officials are convinced that the holding in Davao City of the ASEAN Tourism Forum, in which hundreds of tourism executives from around Southeast Asia congregated to discuss the future of the industry, has put the city on the tourism map. Not a few are optimistic that Davao will soon become a major tourism destination like Cebu . This early, they are counting the potential windfall.

"I am really optimistic that the city will do well and we will achieve what we have been aiming for: to be a tourist destination in Mindanao ," councilor Susan Isabel Reta told reporters recently. According to her, the city has gained the confidence not just of tourists but also of investors.

Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano said Davao City gained much exposure from the forum and that it has showcased its tourism potentials to the world. It wouldn't be long, he said, before Davao City becomes another Cebu , one of the country's most popular tourist destinations, in terms of tourism income.

" Davao as all the infrastructure - a world-class international airport, good roads, hotels and resorts, natural attractions, great food, effective local government, the best security system, peace-loving and law-abiding people, and everything else to make a fine menu for tourism," Sun.Star Davao quoted Durano as saying in January.

According to the Davao City Chamber of Commerce, the forum has boosted the city's economy. The amount City Hall spent for the event - an estimated 30 million pesos - is nothing compared to what the city will gain in the long term, the chamber said. For instance, the DCCCI said, the city would surely earn through taxes and investments, while local business such as hotels, restaurants and the transportation sector earned much during the event.

The Department of Trade and Industry, meanwhile, has announced that some delegates of the forum showed interest in investing in the city.

In an interview with a local tabloid, DTI Davao City director Teolulo Pasawa confirmed that some delegates went to his office and talked about potential investments. Those coming from Switzerland said they were interested in agri- tourism, while those from Thailand were more interested in hotel operations. Some Indian delegates asked questions on banana plantations after they traveled to Davao del Norte.

According to Art Boncato, president of the Davao Tourism Association, the holding of the forum cemented tourism's crucial role in the local economy. "The tourism industry has employed a lot of Davaoneos. Not only those directly involved in tourism benefit from it -- taxi drivers, souvenir producers, so on and so forth," he said.

A surge in the number of tourists coming to the city would be beneficial to the economy. "Every tourist spends money," he said. "Every amount spent goes to taxes, stakeholders, those paying for hotel rooms, the restaurants, even pomelos. These are the things that tourists spend on and we want that. That is why we want more arrivals in the city."

And the more tourists arrive, Boncato said, the more it sends signals to investors that it is okay to invest in Davao City . According to the government, tourism receipts in Davao City increased to 5.9 billion pesos in 2005, from 4.45 billion pesos the previous year.

But some sectors have cautioned City Hall from relying too much on tourism. Omar Bantayan, chairman of the leftist Kilusang Mayo Uno in Southern Mindanao , said the jobs created in the tourism sector are mostly low-paid contractual and seasonal jobs.

While tourism is essential to national development, Bantayan said, it is not the best solution to economic difficulties. Only rich nations, he said, really profit from tourism.

According to the KMU's computations, 80 percent of tourism expenditures, particularly in package tours, go to airlines, hotels and other transnational corporations and not to local businesses or workers.

"Seventy percent of all money spent by tourists in Thailand , an ASEAN member, ended up in foreign-owned tour operators, airlines, hotels, imported drinks and food, etc.," Bantayan said. "This scenario also happens in the Philippines because most of our key tourism industries are still owned by transnational corporations, " he added.

"This is not the sustainable tourism Filipinos can benefit from ," Bantayan said.

Bayan Muna, another progressive group, told that tourism in this country "still upholds policies of globalization." Ariel Casilao, the organization's spokesman, cited tax holidays as example. " How will the government benefit if transnational tourism companies, unlike local business, are exempted from paying taxes?" he said.

These views are supported by a recent study by the United Nations Environment Program, which said that local economies do not benefit much from tourism. "Of each US$100 spent on a vacation tour by a tourist from a rich country," the UNEP study said, "only around US$5 actually stays in a developing-country destination's economy."

Then there's the matter of sex tourism, including child-sex tourism, one of the problems constantly faced by developing nations as they promote tourism. In fact, according to experts, the growth of tourism in Cebu and other areas in the Philippines , such as Boracay, has given rise to the sexual exploitation of women and children.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “Sex tourism is a very lucrative industry that spans the globe.” It cited a 1998 International Labor Organization report that said that 2 to 14 percent of the gross domestic product of Philippines , as well as Indonesia , Malaysia , and Thailand , were derived from sex tourism. It also pointed out an estimate by the nonprofit organization End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and the Trafficking of Children (ECPAT) “that more than one million children worldwide are drawn into the sex trade each year.”

According to experts, Davao is one of the top five areas in the Philippines for child prostitution and sex tourism. Earlier reports quoting ECPAT likewise indicated that the Davao provinces, along with the Caraga region, have become the "favorites" of child traffickers posing as tourists.

The notoriety of sex tourism naturally raised concerns during the ASEAN
Tourism Forum here that the problem might worsen in Davao . Officials,
however, were quick to reassure the public that sex tourism will not be
tolerated in Davao City .

Patmei Ruivivar, the chief of staff of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, said
people with "bad intentions" are not allowed into the city. She said the
city had worked hard to maintain its "child friendly" image. Delegates
to the forum also vowed to help eradicate sex tourism.

Boncato, meanwhile, said Davao will be promoted as a "perfect family
destination," adding that the tourism sector will do its best to protect
the rights of women and children. "All we wanted is to project Davao as
a wholesome destination for families," he said.

Evidently, the city will have to strike a balance somewhere as it
struggles to sustain its economy while at the same time offer its
wonders to the world. (Grace S. Uddin/



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