Do we need another Ms. Universe?

Do we need another Ms. Universe?

- in Opinion
Photo by award-winning Davao-based photographer, Rhonson Ng

While I can certainly understand the motivation behind the Department of Tourism’s push to the host the next Ms. Universe pageant here in the Philippines, I cannot help feeling that it is a step in the wrong direction. If they succeed in their bid, and by all indications they have a good chance, this will be the third time that the pageant will be staged on Philippine soil. The question is, what have we to show for it?

This for me is the most important question – aside from prestige – what benefits did the country’s tourism industry get from those events? Were the small tourism players, the backyard industry inns and souvenir shops, the local guides and homestays get anything worthwhile from having Ms. Universe in the Philippines? This is especially relevant when you take into consideration that, according to reports, we need half a billion pesos to stage the event.

With the Department of Finance and NEDA suspending work on multi-billion construction projects, the Department of Agriculture focusing on improving the lives of individual farmers, and all other agencies going to the ground to serve the people – the direction that the Department of Tourism has taken seems out of sync with the rest Team Duterte.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the effort that the DOT Is putting into this. I am sure that in the few days that they have been in office, they were able to put together enough research on why this will be good for the Philippines. I mean, besides the notion of riding on Ms. Wurtzbach’s unconventional win.

But then again, from a purely marketing perspective, the Ms. Universe may not really be the kind of vehicle that will bring in the tourists that we want. I mean it’s a big event and all, but mostly in Latin American countries. Which only account for a very small fraction of our total tourist arrivals. Unlike the nearer, and more frequent visitors from Asia, I think their reluctance to come to the Philippines may have something to do with them living on the other side of the world.

Then there is also the issue of funding. As I mentioned earlier, half a billion is a lot of money to spend for one beauty contest. Even if it is for the most beautiful woman in “the universe.” And while the DOT has said that it will source the funds from private sponsors, I think I missed the part about what will happen if they are not able to raise the whole amount. Will the Filipino people then be forced to foot the bill if private companies decline?

But like I said at the beginning, I do understand the attraction of the Ms. Universe as a promotional tool. It is glitzy, glamorous, high-profile – exactly the right kind of flame that would attract the right kind of moths. Like the film festivals and gala events of former First Lady Imelda Marcos in the 1970’s.

What makes me wonder though is that, by going for this low-hanging fruit, isn’t the DOT missing out on the larger opportunity of developing the industry at the granular level? Is promotion really the most pressing problem? Is hosting the Ms. Universe for a third time the best way for us to strengthen the tourism industry?

Mindanao in particular can benefit immensely from this kind of effort and resources. Especially after years of neglect by all the last administrations, we need less show and more business. This means better training for community tour guides, improved infrastructure and facilities for tourists, marketing and promotions subsidies for backyard tourism players, and increased support for the preservation and promotion of indigenous cultures. Though I could be wrong, these seem to be more the kind of tourism programs that are in line with the pro-people agenda of the Duterte administration.

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