19 June 2018 – Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said the country must push for “sustainable tourism and responsible tourists,” which she says will be the “overarching theme” of her leadership at the Department of Tourism.

Secretary Puyat was invited by the Makati Business Club to be the keynote speaker at the business group’s Annual Meeting at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel and listen to her plans to boost the tourism sector and address the recent controversies that had plagued the department.

On 8 May, President Rodrigo Duterte plucked Puyat from her long-time post as agriculture undersecretary to replace then-Tourism Secretary Wanda Tulfo-Teo, who was fired amid a controversial P60-million tourism advertising deal entered into by the DOT. Her appointment was widely received positively and on 29 May she breezed through the Commission on Appointments.

Though less than a month into her new job, the tourism chief gamely expounded on her vision for sustainable tourism. “Taking from my experience as a former agriculture official and policy-maker, a sector cannot significantly contribute to the economy if it is not sustainable,” she said.

“We believe that the tourism can only be sustainable if we maximize consultations, if all stakeholders can assume responsibility for growing the industry, if we can do this across the archipelago, there will be pockets of tourism that will be catalysts and sustainable sources for economic growth,” she added.

Private sector support

For Secretary Puyat, the private sector is one of the stakeholders whose contribution will be critical to the success of her tourism program. She invited businesses to help the department promote initiatives like the “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” marketing campaign.

“Given all the positive changes that we are pursuing in the next four years, we need to invite the private sector to be our partners in responsibly developing tourism products, infrastructure, and services,” she said.

“We invite you to support and be part of an industry that not only helps the economic standing of the poorest in our society, but also encourages Filipinos to be the best tour guides and tourists in our beloved country,” she added.
Puyat said Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines, two of the tourism industry’s biggest stakeholders, have already jumped on board to help make advertisements for the agency.

Oishi and Bench, run by the brothers Carlos and Ben Chan, will also pitch in. Oishi is one of the largest snack food makers in China, where Romulo said a lot of tourism arrival growth is and will be coming from.

“It’s more fun, but maybe there’s no more funds in the Philippines, so they have agreed to make commercials with the Department of Tourism,” Romulo-Puyat said. “They will place the ads not only here, but abroad.”

Cabinet backing

She assured the businessmen that she has the administration’s, particularly the Cabinet’s, support and that her department will be made part of the government economic team. “I am glad to tell you that [Finance] Secretary Dominguez has included the DOT in his economic managers’ team,” she said.

She disclosed that she would be meeting other Cabinet members that week to talk about ways to develop tourism in the country. She also added that although she was planning to visit their offices one by one, they all volunteered to meet her instead. “I think it’s going to be the first time that it’s going to happen, at least in the Department of Tourism,” she said.

“Secretary Tugade of the Department of Transportation, Secretary Guevarra of the Department of Justice, Secretary Mark Villar of DPWH, and BoC Commissioner Sid Lapena will be coming to the Department of Tourism office and we will be discussing infrastructure, roads, airports. Because I was telling Secretary Tugade, who was my seatmate in the Cabinet [meeting], ‘I need my airports, now,’” she added.

She also said that Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno has committed to raising the DOT’s budget.

Boracay reopening

Addressing the issue of the closure of arguably the country’s most popular tourist destination, Secretary Puyat said that the government is working hard to reopen Boracay island to tourists by October 26. President Durterte had ordered the closure of the island for six months, saying violations of environmental and construction laws made the island a “cesspool.”