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The Tourism Act of 2009: Aiming for Global Competitiveness

The Philippine Tourism Act of 2009 (Republic Act No. 9593) was passed with the intention of jumpstarting a Philippine tourism industry that had fallen far behind global and regional trends.

Globally, tourism arrivals have surpassed 900 million, generated over USD 800 billion in tourism receipts (UNWTO, 2011), and directly generated or supported 99 million jobs (WTTC, 2011). The numbers by themselves are impressive, but back-of-the-envelope calculations more readily capture the direct economic impact of tourism – each tourist spends almost USD 900 on each trip, and every 9 tourists create or support one job.

The Philippines received 3.5 million tourists in 2010. While this already represents a record for the country, some comparisons within the Southeast Asian region are necessary to put this performance in perspective. Malaysia had 24.6 million tourist arrivals in 2010, Thailand had 15.8 million, and even Indonesia had 7 million (PATA, 2011).

Key Features

It bears stressing that tourism reforms do not happen overnight. Thus, while the Tourism Act was passed in 2009, it has yet to be fully implemented. The law made key structural reforms in the manner of tourism governance that requires changes to government and industry structures, relationships, and mindsets. In sum, the Tourism Act proposed addressing the competitiveness gap of the Philippines through:

Strengthening the capacity and resources of the government to promote the country as an international tourism destination. Previously, funding for tourism came primarily from the national budget. Moreover, the national effort for tourism promotions was divided between three government agencies – the Department of Tourism (DOT), Philippine Conventions and Visitors Corporation (PCVC), and Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA). Today, to boost resources for promotions, the Tourism Act required entities that benefit directly from tourism – Philippine Amusements and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), the airports and seaports, and Duty-Free Philippines (DFP) – to contribute to tourism promotions. Also, governance has been placed in just one entity, the Philippine Tourism Promotions Board (TPB).

Building the physical infrastructure to accommodate tourists, while protecting environmental and cultural heritage. Tourism development has progressed in a haphazard and unplanned fashion, often to the detriment of local communities, their culture, and the environment. Moreover, foreign investors have been wary of investing, particularly in having to deal directly with local governments and the costs of setting up in the Philippines. The Tourism Act restructured the PTA into the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), which will now operate as investment agency, facilitating the entry of investors, granting incentives, and supervising Tourism Enterprise Zones (TEZs). The law requires that these TEZs should be properly planned, mindful of their impact on the environment, culture, and the host community, while highlighting our own Philippine identity.

Building the human infrastructure for a culture of tourism. While the warmth of Filipino hospitality has long been recognized, there is a need to improve the skills of those working in the industry to world-class levels. Moreover, host communities and local governments (LGUs) must genuinely support tourism, rather than see tourists simply as a source of easy money, whether through petty crime and prostitution by residents, or through the incessant imposition by LGUs of various fees. The Tourism Act mandates that DOT work with the private sector, and with educational and training institutions, to uplift the standards of tourism, both in terms of facilities and services, and for LGUs to properly plan for tourism, integrate their development plans, and enforce regulations and planning. Also, the private sector should be organized into one representative body, such that it can more effectively assist government in the formulation and implementation

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