Bernadette Fatima Romulo-Puyat describes herself as someone whose perennially heavy workload has forced her to live up to her married name. She also points out that her house is along a street that banners the same “description,” and her office is also along a street that describes the same sleep-deprived condition.
She hastens to add that she could allow herself the luxury of sleep for only about two hours a day, especially now that she has taken over the lead of our tourism industry. After she was sworn into office by President Duterte, she hit the ground running, familiarizing herself with the intricacies of the industry, and seeing to it that all transactions and activities entered into by the department were, are, and will be above board.
A University of the Philippines graduate with a degree in Economics, Secretary Berna, as she is fondly called, is the second child of former Senator Alberto Romulo and his wife, Lovely. The comely new Tourism Secretary started her career as an instructor at the UP School of Economics, and served as an undersecretary, for so many years, at the Department of Agriculture prior to her current designation.
I have had quite a number of occasions to chat leisurely with our new Tourism Secretary. My industry friends and I agree that, with her youthful and star-quality looks, she certainly is “easy on the eyes.” She’s always smiling, has a pleasant disposition, and has an attractive persona that is also gung-ho on pushing the industry to be one of the country’s top money-makers—exactly the leader we need.
As a recent guest at our weekly Bulong Pulungan, she joyfully announced that, in spite of the closure of Boracay, the most popular beach destination in our country, tourist arrivals increased by 11.35 percent during the first six months of this year, compared to the same period last year. Thanks to social media and the hard work that our tour operators have put in, tourists now enjoy themselves in Cebu, Bohol, and La Union which offer practically the same sun-sea-sand attraction as that of Boracay.
Although it was a lesson learned the hard way, Secretary Berna considers the Boracay “fiasco” as a very important tool in making our countrymen understand the concept of Sustainable and Responsible Tourism, which she will bat for during her term as Secretary. All those communities whose livelihood is anchored on beach destinations are now very careful, seeing to it that these will not fall into the same abyss of neglect that brought about the closure of Boracay.
The good news, though, is that all the government agencies involved in Boracay’s rehabilitation are poised to re-open the destination by Oct. 26 this year, an announcement met with applause by everybody. This certainly will redound to surpassing our 7.4 million visitor arrivals target for this year.
Our country’s tour operators, inspired by the positive developments at the Department of Tourism, are now very busy with their marketing efforts to lure more visitors to the country, especially now that the government has set aside P30.9 billion for tourism infrastructure. Our Asean neighbors are their primary target.
Another country that has a big potential to increase its share of our tourist arrivals is India, now that high-level government talks between our two countries are renegotiating the air service agreement, calling for more weekly flights between Manila and New Delhi.
Early this year, the Department of Tourism also bared its marketing activities that are designed to bring in more tourists from Israel and Turkey, two countries that have the potential to send more of their nationals our way.
This frenzy of activities is an indication of the tourism industry’s serious commitment to make the whole world know that, definitely, “It’s More Fun In The Philippines,” the department’s advertising tagline which Secretary Berna plans to keep. What is even more laudable is that, when she took over the helm of our industry, many ad agencies offered to do marketing campaigns for the country, PRO BONO, which she certainly appreciates, considering the department’s limited budget.
It is very heartwarming to see everybody in the industry now working together with a revitalized fervor...a fitting welcome to our indefatigable Tourism Secretary, who is definitely “a breath of fresh air” to our industry.
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