Tourism Key to Southeast Asia Development, Say Dignitaries

L to R: Charm Lee (CEO, Korea Tourism Organization), Soo Siew Keong (Regional Director North Asia, Singapore Tourism Board), Kyongsoo Lho (Co-Chairman, Asia Society Korea Center), Simeon P. Marfori, II (Undersecretary, Department of Tourism, Philippines), Dong Bin Shin (Co-Chairman, Asia Society Korea Center)
SEOUL, September 28, 2010 - Asia Society Korea Center members and friends welcomed vice ministers from the Philippines and Singapore to the Lotte Hotel here for a discussion on public-private partnerships for economic and social development.

Simeon P. Marfori, II, Undersecretary of the Philippine Department of Tourism, gave a presentation designed to attract investment in the Philippine tourism industry. He said that despite annual growth in visitor arrivals in the Philippines—this year it expects 3.3 million—the tourism industry is still underdeveloped. Consequently, he urged people to reconsider the Philippines as a tourism and investment destination.

Marfori went on to give some examples of major Korean companies already invested in his country, and some of the projects they are involved in. He enumerated some areas where further opportunities exist: Accommodation facilities, retirement villages, transportation facilities, and ecological tourism, among others.

Regarding public-private partnerships, he pointed out that there is a new government policy regarding attracting investments that aims to accelerate development. Meanwhile, in the area of tourism, the government is striving to transform bureaucracy to eliminate inefficiencies, and to rebrand the Philippines.

As to why Korean businesses should invest in the Philippines, Marfori said his nation is centrally located in Southeast Asia and has a people-centric culture with 7,107 islands waiting to be discovered and millions of dollars waiting to be earned.

The other speaker was Soo Siew Keong, the Singapore Tourism Board's regional director for North Asia. Soo explained that the Tourism Board has an important role closely linked with the Cabinet. The Board makes bold decisions and the government backs it as a major bringer of investment. In order for projects to be approved, the Board needs to show that there are high positive spillover effects on other industries. He then showed some examples of mega-projects around tourism that are underway or already completed.

Touching on Singapore’s strengths, Soo pointed to the 18 free trade agreements that his country has enacted, Singapore’s recognized status as a good place to do business, its location and cruise ship-friendly harbor, and their recently upgraded infrastructure. In 2010 Singapore expects 11.5 to 12.5 million visitors by air and sea.

Soo explained a unique three-way partnership between public and private sectors and people that the Singaporean government has fostered: The government wants prosperity and growth as well as tax revenue and job creation; the private sector needs a good labor supply and aims to make a profit; and the people want good jobs, lifestyle, education and healthcare. This three-way linkage, Soo said, gives Singapore its expected 13-15 percent GDP growth this year—the highest in the world.