MANILA,  August 25
, 2004 (STAR) By Paolo Romero - Taking over the Department of Tourism (DOT) is no small task.

President Arroyo’s newly appointed tourism secretary, Cebu City Rep. Joseph "Ace" Durano, has a lot of work to do to reach the department’s target: five million tourist arrivals annually by 2010.

But if he manages to reach this goal, the reward for the country is a whopping P50 billion in annual revenues by 2010.

"We aim to have at least five million tourist arrivals annually by 2010," the 35-year-old politician said. "Assuming that each visitor spends at least $1,000 here, then that’s so much more than the P6 billion to P8 billion in overseas Filipino workers (OFWs)’ remittances that have been propping up the economy for years."

He said that unlike revenues generated by other agencies such as the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), whose collections go to the national government, earnings from tourism receipts are directly circulated into the economy.

Durano said tourist arrivals from January to June this year reached around half a million.

The key, he said, to achieving the target in six years is to focus the government’s tourism strategy on specific markets and create a consumer-driven type of packaging for the country’s tourist destinations.

He said this thrust would prevent the DOT from wasting the government’s meager funds for mass-marketing campaigns that do not really identify the target sectors but weigh heavily on thin government resources.

Durano’s journey to the tourism portfolio was not entirely surprising since he had held various leadership posts in the 11th and 12th Congresses, including the chairmanship of the House committee on public order and security and the vice chairmanships of the committees on tourism, public works and highways, trade and industry, rural development, local governments, higher and technical education, basic education and culture, ethics, dangerous drugs, constitutional amendments, science and technology, and suffrage and electoral reforms.

During his stint in the tourism committee, Durano helped craft various tourism plans and was among the country’s representatives to many international tourism conferences and workshops.

A native of Danao City in Cebu, Durano finished high school at the St. Lawrence Academy in California and has an Asian Studies degree from the University of Redlands, also in California. He also studied at the Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan.

After college, he took up law at the Ateneo de Manila University and is currently enrolled in the same school for a MBA program. He is married to Carmen Luzuriaga and has two children.

Durano, however, said that he was chosen for the DOT post because of his impressive handling of the water supply project in Cebu, which he described as "dead in the water for years" but he got it up and running in just four months.

"The President is very serious in making DOT a major contributor to the economy even as it is perceived as a minor portfolio by many," Durano said.

He cited an incident that showed Mrs. Arroyo’s resolve in making tourism as a major part of her development program: "During the press conference in Cebu last Aug. 18 where the President announced her Cabinet appointees, a reporter asked me what is my program, but the President answered the question herself. She said: ‘my program is Ace program.’"

Durano said Mrs. Arroyo’s directive was for him to fully implement the McKenzie study, which basically calls for a focused or "niche marketing" strategy targeting specific groups while enhancing the country’s strengths and advantages.

"There is a perception that mere know-how is enough for the DOT. But that’s not the case since most of the concerns of the private local and foreign tourism-related businesses are handled by other departments," he said.

Peace and order, the topmost concern of foreigners and local tourists, for example, is within the area of responsibility of the Department of the Interior and Local Government while infrastructure is the concern of the Departments of Public Works and Highways. Transportation, which is also very crucial in moving tourists around, is the jurisdiction of the Department of Transportation and Communications.

Other concerns like health and sanitation and the environment and ecology are the responsibilities of the Department of Health and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

"An effective tourism secretary should be able to create a synergy between all these departments and agencies and elicit their cooperation through a sound plan," Durano said.

He said his experience as a young politician would greatly help in working with various agencies, which also helped him a lot in dealing with various political groups and leaders in the House of Representatives and in his district in Cebu.

Durano said each Filipino can help in his or her own way in promoting the country by contributing to the positive image of the Philippines and its people.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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