Mar 22, 2011

Mina Gabor: President of International School of Sustainable Tourism (ISST)

A very sincere and inspiring interview of Mina Gabor, ISST President (among many missions).
But hum ... I thought Korea motto was now "Korea Inspiring "?

Source: Manila Bulletin Publishing Corp.
By Em P. Guevara - March 6, 2011

MANILA, Philippines - Guillermina “Mina” Tapia Gabor remains best known as Secretary of Tourism from 1996 to 1998, during which she successfully marketed the Philippines as a destination. She is known as well to be the founder of the Center for International Trade Expositions, Inc. (CITEM), the export promotion agency of the Department of Trade and Industry. At the moment, she sits as the Chairwoman of the Ecotourism Society of the Philippines, acts as a consultant to the World Tourism Organization (WTO) based in Madrid, and is one of the few lifetime members of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA). She continues with her advocacy work as founder and president of the Philippine Small and Medium Business Development Foundation (PHILSMED). And her latest baby comes in the form of a trainors training school called the International School of Sustainable Tourism (ISST).

Mina Gabor started out an entrepreneur, served the government for 18 years, and has since been back with the private sector, as well as actively involved in various civic and business organizations. She took up courses leading to Masters in Business Administration from the University of the Philippines and a PhD in Entreprenology from the International University of Entreprenology in Hawaii. She is a recipient of various prestigious awards and a woman of so many hats, one can only wonder what it’s like to be possessed with so much passion and talent. In this interview, Business Agenda gets into the mind of one of the most patriotic Filipinas around.

BA : First, and rather predictably, what do you want to say about the Pilipinas Kay Ganda fiasco?
MG: Based on their explanation, you have to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’d like to think there’s more to what they presented. It’s better to bury it, as everybody is now working towards better research and a really well thought out brand. What they had was a tagline, not the brand. There should be consultation with concerned groups before announcing…And there’s such a thing as x-factor, and it just didn’t have it. Taglines have to have coherence with your goals. What do you really want people to think of our place? Korea, for example, has the best branding today. “Korea, Sparkling”…the goal is simple: change the image of their people, who are perceived to be brusko, fresh, unfriendly…

When I was DOT Secretary, we had “Fiesta Islands,” a tagline I inherited from Tony Gonzales. We changed it to “The Best of the Islands,” which we broke down to GAdventure Islands, Musical Islands, Golf Islands, Gourmet Islands and Sports Islands.

BA: How would you assess the tourism industry at present?
MG: It is too early for me to comment because it’s a new administration and the programs are still being put in place and started. But with sustainable tourism trend worldwide…I just came from a PATA Adventure Mart in Nepal, and everything is community-based and nature-based, including activities that involve nature. We must position ourselves very fast, because everyone wants to do the same.

There is a six million tourist arrival projection by the end of P-Noy’s term, and I think that’s a reasonable target. However the problem of enough accommodations and air seats have to be tackled simultaneously.

BA: Why do you think Thailand and Malaysia keep beating us in the tourism game?
MG: First, they have the advantage of cross border arrivals—that’s a big factor. Second, it has always been said that it’s the bigger allocation of marketing and promo funds. I know in the case of Malaysia that they’ve put together a strategy up to the countryside level; the governments in the area support the private sector. Third, the seamless travel. And fourth, training, which brings me to where I am today.

BA: So is this what you’re busiest with among your many positions and affiliations?
MG: Yes, it’s my latest project, the trainors training institute. Together with Former Secretary Cora De Leon, Dr. Dave Cartes of Florida State University/IESES Department, PATA, Jojo Bernardo of APO Japan, Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), and Miguel Guioguio, I am launching the International School of Sustainable Tourism (ISST) this March. We started setting it up in January 2010 in Subic. We want to make people aware of the effects of irresponsible tourism and help educate the communities to be more responsible. The goal is to have a viable learning center for sustainable tourism in ASEAN that is world-class and internationally competitive.

There will be three campuses: the ISST Main Campus, to open this month; the Aparri Heights Campus, a Hotel, Resort and Restaurant Management Department, to open next year; and the Triboa Ecocenter Campus, to open later part of next year. The school offers courses that last five days to three months. For example, the Eco-lodge Planning and Development Course is five days, and the Eco-guiding Course lasts 10 days. We offer more than 20 courses. I cannot tell you how happy I am doing this. It’s the first school of its kind in the region. It will have two types of activities—events and courses.

A second project I’m working on is HomeStay Philippines. It’s a company we will be launching this year too. It will teach people how to use their unutilized homes or rooms in their homes as accommodation for guests and tourists, another way of income generation for local people.

BA: What are your thoughts on the open skies policy? Is it good for our country’s tourism?
MG: My thoughts are really for a liberalized air policy, which gives justifiable easy entry to the Philippines. I have not been all the way for open skies, because after reviewing our air agreements, these foreign airlines have not fully utilized the air agreements in terms of frequency. We had all the major airlines here before and they have left us, because there wasn’t enough traffic. So we must look at why people are not coming here; the main concern is how to bring in the tourists. No country can say that they’re totally safe or secure, but why are people going to those countries anyway? Maybe we should recheck the promotion strategy of certain areas in the Philippines. And making sure that people who are in charge of security and health-related advisories should cooperate with the DOT, before sending out press releases…just to check if announcements can be worded better and clearer to avoid fear among tourists.

BA: How is the “one town, one product” doing? Or is it being implemented or promoted at all?MG: I was in a meeting with Sec. Domingo recently, and that is one area he wants to revisit and strengthen. My thoughts on this is that times have changed from when it started in Japan in the early ’70s. After 9-11, merchandise are no longer stocked, they are kept on the floor. Orders are smaller in quantity, so you don’t need a whole town to make one product anymore. OTOP is also a program for agriculture and tourism. So our problem of food processing can be taken care of, to address the lack of raw materials.

BA: Will P-Noy’s policies make it easier or harder for SMEs, given that the economy is supposed to be riding on them for growth?
MG: One of the areas I want to see implemented in the Philippines is similar to something I saw done by the Small Business Administration (SBA) in the U.S., on how their banks deal with SMEs. I want us to be more liberal in extending credit, and that part of the guarantee is no longer your having assets. Instead, look at the project and look at the proponent’s capacity to implement. It is actually part of our law that a percentage of the loanable funds of banks should be given to SMEs, and this should be reviewed. The loan officers should be familiarized on the current trends of the market, on product categories, on industries with potential so loans can be given faster.

BA: What is your legacy in general and to tourism so far?
MG: In trade, we were able to set up CITEM. Develop and promote non-traditional products for exports. In tourism arrival, we broke the first 2 million mark. In 1996 without additional money for promotions, I told our tourism attaches abroad, do you want to help me hit the target or do you want to pack up and come home? Nobody wanted to come home, so we met the target. The report now is we are at 3.1 million tourist arrivals…that’s 15 years since.

BA: You were in government for 18 years. As a former insider, why do you think we have a government that doesn’t seem to work?
MG: It doesn’t seem to be much more progressive than we expect. There are faults, but our system works. The more progressive groups would say, don’t wait for government, instead let’s help government. Probably by and large, that’s how we should be thinking. Many successful countries are private sector-driven. Us, we have been babied, spoonfed…I have been in trade and tourism, and I must tell you, I’ve seen the best workers and the best minds in government. The faults of a few are magnified, but there are many conscientious people in government, many unsung heroes, and I take my hat off to them. Everybody is castigated when something really bad happens. This is why I say the government works, because in spite of all this, these government workers continue to serve. The CSW (Complete Staff Work) system of President Ramos worked.

BA: Among your many awards, which do you value most, and why?
MG: Of course, the Philippine Legion of Honor Award (the highest award from the Philippine government to an individual), and those given by my Alma Maters—University of Santo Tomas and St. Scholastica’s College—because after all, I won’t be where I am if not for the education that I got. I think all those who taught me should be given the honor.

BA: Describe the essential Mina Gabor.
MG: Simple. The impression is that I am very sophisticated, into fashion…but in the truest sense, I shy away from social activities, especially evening activities. I just want evenings simple, to be with friends. I’m not a complicated person, I sometimes eat with my hands. I extremely value honesty and hard work. If you don’t want me to blow my top, don’t tell a lie. I’ve always asked for the highest quality of work from my people. I tell them, ‘This is not good enough, this is not you.’

BA: How do you achieve balance with the many things you juggle?
MG: I get six hours of sleep at night. My grandfather taught me how to have balance in my work. He said, ‘When you’re very tired, just switch off and turn to another area of activity.’ That is my medicine. And I cannot go a day without fruits and fruit juices. I can drink as much as five glasses a day. And I really love cooking and gardening.