It will just be a matter of time before the Philippines receives another unfavorable travel advisory from foreign countries, whose citizens are at the receiving end of the latest kidnapping incidents in the troubled south.
The Philippines suffered another black eye after gunmen seized Wednesday an Italian restaurant owner and former priest in Dipolog City, ironically a sleepy port in Zamboanga del Norte province. The kidnapping is the third incident in a month involving foreigners in the country. Abu Sayyaf is holding a Dutch man, a Korean and two Malaysians in the jungles of Jolo, while two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina were abducted by still unidentified gunmen from Ocean View Resort Hotel, a luxury island resort in Samal Island, Davao City last month.
Military personnel and local security forces in the south failed to protect the victims, most of them snatched in relatively peaceful places and away from the hotbed of kidnappings in the south.
The kidnappings of foreigners on Philippine shores receive big publicity in foreign media and cast a bad image on the nation and the country’s leadership. Manila should expect knee-jerk reactions from the governments of the kidnapped victims in the form of negative travel advisories.
Philippine tourism, meanwhile, will suffer as a consequence of the unfortunate events and the resulting adverse travel advisories. The industry remains a major dollar earner but the Philippines will find it difficult to lure more tourists into the country if it is unable to provide foreign tourists with basic security arrangements that deter kidnappings.
Poor infrastructure, coupled with a derelict transportation system, has compounded the problems besetting the Philippine tourism industry. Tourist arrivals in 2014 are comparatively low at 4.8 million against Malaysia at 27.4 million, Singapore at 11.8 million, Indonesia at 9.4 million and Vietnam even 7.9 million.
Promoting the Philippines as a “fun” country will be a challenge in the remaining months of the Aquino administration. Potential tourists will always be forewarned by their governments about the security risks of coming here.