MANILA, July 6, 2004
SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson  -  A little mole whispered the other day that President Arroyo is close to appointing a new Secretary of Tourism and Patrick Gregorio is in the short list of candidates.

I met Patrick or Pato, to his friends, in Cebu during a boxing coverage at the Waterfront Hotel a few years ago. The event was a rousing success. Fans came in droves and the place was packed. You felt like you were in Las Vegas. It was Pato’s idea to create a Las Vegas atmosphere and the electricity in the air added to the excitement.

Pato is the president of the Waterfront chain of hotels and chairman of the Cebu Visitors and Conventions Bureau. He’s been immersed in promoting tourism the past 17 years, moving from Manila to Davao to Cebu. Since graduating cum laude in Tourism Management at the University of the Philippines (UP) in 1988, Pato has dedicated his life to the country’s sunshine industry. He has taken up courses in Singapore and Cornell University to broaden his knowledge of tourism.

Pato’s dedication is reflected in the places where his and wife Marichel’s children were born. Rafael, 8, was born in Manila; Patricia, 6, in Davao and Angela, 2, in Cebu. His family covers Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.

Pato’s younger brothers are Ryan and Allan of hoops fame. Ryan coaches Purefoods in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). Allan was formerly the UP varsity coach, like Ryan, and is now in sports marketing for FedEx aside from doing PBA radio broadcasts as a game analyst.

Pato’s father Martin is the Vice President for Administration and a respected professor at UP. His mother Lucille works for UNESCO in Bangkok where she is actively involved in the anti-AIDS program.

When I heard that Pato was being considered as the next Secretary of Tourism, my heart skipped a beat. It was like music to my ears. He’s no politician. He’s a tourism practitioner whose expertise is widely recognized by peers here and abroad. He recently became the first Ten Outstanding Young Men awardee for tourism in the 45-year history of the prestigious Jaycees search.

I also heard that at least 10 tourism organizations are endorsing Pato’s candidacy via a manifesto of support. Some of the country’s biggest tourism organizations like the Philippine Travel Agencies Association and the Philippine Tour Operators Association are backing up Pato.

"We know how Pato works and where his heart is," said a veteran tour operator. "He’s young, only 36, and he’s full of energy and ideas. Winnie Monsod has openly supported Pato to become the next Secretary of Tourism and she knows what she’s talking about. This is not about ambition but conviction. Pato is well-respected as a tourism practitioner. He’s perfect for the job."

What’s more, Pato is a believer in promoting tourism through sports. And why not? The world’s biggest tourism events are anchored on sporting competitions like Formula 1 racing, the World Cup of soccer, the Olympics and Wimbledon. A milestone in the country’s tourism history was the Thrilla In Manila at the Araneta Coliseum in 1975. The Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier heavyweight title fight reintroduced the Philippines as a tourist destination to the whole world.

It’s no accident that the PBA will stage a bigger and more exciting All-Star Week in Cebu on Aug. 9-15. The basketball action will be held on Saturday and Sunday but the All-Star program will start the Monday before. Pato negotiated for the rights to host the All-Star Week in the Queen City of the South.

"The concept is to promote tourism packages revolving around a sporting event," said a PBA insider. "We plan to set up a one-stop shop where fans from Cebu or Davao or wherever can go for a tour package providing for transportation, hotel and tickets to an event. It’s now being done to promote Las Vegas boxing shows in Europe. Pato has the same thing in mind. During the SARS crisis, everyone realized the potential of domestic tourism. There are 82 million Filipinos and we want them all to see the beauty of the Philippines. Sports tourism is a major component of this effort."

A source close to Pato said he’s ready to take the leap from the private to the public sector. "The industry is behind him," said the source. "There is no turning back."

In basketball terms, Pato is a hot candidate to become the first draft pick. The Philippines has been left behind in the race for tourist dollars by neighbors like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. The country got a huge lift from Sen. Richard Gordon who put the industry back on its feet. Now, it’s time to make the big play. The championship is at stake. The coach is deciding which player to tap to lead the team to victory.

Pato looks like he’s the right man for the job.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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