On June 30, we will see a new administration take over as the current administration bids us goodbye. Some Cabinet secretaries, as early as now, have already turned over the office for transition to the incoming leadership and moved on. One of these is Secretary Berna Romulo Puyat of the Department of Tourism, who has been appointed and has in fact started working as Deputy Governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas this June.
She leaves the Tourism Department with an impressive record: Under her leadership, the DOT served with utmost transparency and integrity, as shown in the Unqualified Opinion Rating from the Commission on Audit (COA) for two consecutive fiscal years (2019 and 2020). This rating proves that the financial statements of the DOT were found to “be presented fairly in all material aspects after being subjected to scrutiny in accordance with International Standards of Supreme Audit Institutions”.
The DOT was also recognized by the Government Quality Management Committee (GQMC) in 2019 for successfully implementing its Quality Management System (QMS), which was expanded to cover three additional regional offices, DOT-Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), Regions 4A (CALABARZON), and Region 10 (Northern Mindanao).
The DOT also received its first ISO 9001-2015 certification since 1973.
National Tourism Development Plan 2022-2028
It also started projects for Farm Tourism; Medical Travel and Wellness Tourism; and Halal Tourism, which are highlighted for focus in the National Tourism Development Plan 2022-2028.
While food tourism had its challenges during the pandemic, Farm Tourism which focuses on providing authentic and educational rural experiences and offering fresh produce and healthy dining options to travelers, emerged in the list of “highly preferred activities” among travelers, and became identified as a major contributor to the recovery of the industry.
Medical Travel and Wellness Tourism, initially included under the “Health, Wellness, and Retirement Tourism product” is currently one of the fastest growing tourism sectors. Sec. Berna explains that its significance further increased during the pandemic. “The Philippines has a number of world-class hospitals and medical facilities that can compete with the price and service quality of other countries,” she shares.
Finally, in the spirit of expanding the coverage of tourism to our Muslim brothers and sisters, Sec. Berna highlights that Halal Tourism, now considered one of the fastest growing tourism sectors in the world, has the potential to become one of the major new “products” of the DOT. She explains that this has been largely untapped in the Philippines in spite of our almost 11 million Muslim Filipinos. She adds, “As one of the major new products of the DOT, halal tourism will bring special attention to the attractions and cuisine of Mindanao, while also attracting more tourists from the Middle East.”
Surviving the Pandemic
But the biggest achievement of Sec. Berna was navigating the tourism industry out of the pandemic, helping the players not only survive but thrive. She recalls, “Even the pandemic did not stop Filipino cuisine from gaining traction worldwide. It even paved the way for wider market reach with the sudden need to innovate campaigns and shift to digital platforms.”
“During the pandemic, we were able to set up the Kain Na! Trading Post (www.kainnastore.com), promote food tourism via social media outlets, and conduct cooking shows within the comfort of the viewer’s household. Through this online pivot, we generated 800,000 video views, a reach of 700,000 and our online store registered 13,000 store visits,” the Tourism Secretary proudly shares.
As for promotions, in 2021, the DOT also connected with global networks and publications for them to explore, together with their audiences, “the history, heritage, and diverse culinary wonders that the Philippines has to offer”; partnering with the National Geographic Channel, Disney, BBC, and Tasty “to spread the word about what Filipino food is and what exquisite dishes are there for them to try here”.
She adds, “To further promote food tourism, we are continuously organizing hybrid events that feature native cuisines and delicacies of regions and provinces in the country. Aside from promoting the food offerings of the country, these events also provide a networking avenue for our local tourism stakeholders, and helps revive the local and regional tourism industry.”
World Travel and Tourism Council
In the end, she emphasizes that tourism is not just about promoting products but also about further discovering what the Philippines has to offer and equipping tourism stakeholders with the tools and skills: “The usual notion about my job is that it is limited to promoting tourist destinations and encouraging everyone to travel to the Philippines. But tourism isn’t only about promoting the best of what we have; it’s also about developing tourism products that are relevant to the current market, finding lesser-known attractions that have potential to bring in more tourists and create more businesses and jobs, equipping our tourism stakeholders and workers with the necessary tools and skills, and preserving our natural resources, cultures, and traditions.”
Seeing her all around the country riding carabaos, getting dirty in the mud to personally experience planting rice, visiting famous and yet-to-become-famous sights, we have all witnessed her sincerity in promoting our country. This was also not lost on the international community, as the Philippines bravely hosted the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) Global Summit last April 20 to 22, participated in by over a thousand tourism professionals, stakeholders, and media representatives from all over the world, on top of the virtual attendees.
During the summit, WTTC President and CEO Julia Simpson announced that travel and tourism in the Philippines is “firmly on the road to recovery, primarily due to our efforts to tirelessly promote domestic travels. ” The WTTC projected that travel and tourism in the Philippines would reach an annual growth rate of 6.7% in the next 10 years, exceeding its overall economy average growth rate of just 5.6 %, with employment growing annually by an average of 3% in the same period, generating 2.9 million new jobs that will account for 21.5% of all jobs in the Philippines.
This courage to host the WTTC also comes as the DOT led initiatives for the vaccination of 98% of tourism workers under the A1 and A4 categories, and established minimum health and safety standards for tourist destinations, accommodation establishments, enterprises, and tour operators, to prepare for the eventual resumption of tourism under the new normal.
Back on Track
Sec. Berna proudly shares, “When the Philippines opened its borders to international leisure travel on February 10 of this year, we were beyond prepared to welcome back foreign tourists, and we are happy to note that our efforts to boost traveler confidence in the country has paid off. Since we reopened, the number of tourist arrivals to the country have already exceeded our expectations, with more than half a million (559,832 as of May 31) entries recorded.”
The DOT also developed and opened 115 tourism circuits across the country, “to introduce the best travel products and experiences in each region, including culinary, history, nature, wellness, agriculture, and faith-based tourism.”
It’s certainly been a good stint for this hardworking advocate for all things Filipino. In spite of the pandemic, the tourism industry is back on track, thanks to her leadership and the hard work of everyone at the DOT. Thank you for your dedicated service, Sec. Berna, and for never making us forget – even during the pandemic – that indeed, “it’s more fun in the Philippines”!
More from the author at margauxsalcedo.com.