Learning from Spain

By: Jobers R. Bersales November 26,2015 - 02:12 AM

Madrid, Spain — During the past two weeks I have been observing how the Spanish cities I have been privileged to visit here have harnessed whatever means they have to welcome as many tourists as the entire country can possibly accommodate.

Tourism is without doubt a huge contributor to Spain’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), accounting for 4.6 percent in direct contribution, about 58.8 billion euros and 870,000 jobs created last year alone. In 2014, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, Spain ranked 8th among tourist destinations worldwide.

I know it is unfair to compare Cebu and its capacity to handle tourists, given the ocean of financial difference with, say, Barcelona. Note, however, that Barcelona is like Metro Cebu to a certain extent: it is Spain’s second or queen city, and like Cebu, it is also a “rebellious” city in that it feels hemmed in by the Spanish capital Madrid, despite being an economic powerhouse by itself, and  perennially complains about  “imperial” Madrid.

But I will not belabor the point. It is futile to use Barcelona as Cebu’s yardstick for tourism preparedness. I would rather pick Seville and Valladolid, two relatively small cities with  a sizeable number of tourists, mostly European, but increasingly Chinese also.

The first thing I immediately noticed (and this is also true for those cities and towns in Germany, The Netherlands and France) is that these two cities—and everywhere in Spain for that matter—have their tourism offices  smack in the center of town. In our case, that would be at Fort San Pedro or Plaza Independencia. That is the first indication of how serious Spain and the rest of

Europe is about tourism.  Moreover, where there are favorite tourism sites, there is always a huge letter “I,” short for “Information” whether as a small kiosk or an office where tourism employees are ready to help the inquiring visitor.

Second, tourists can get maps for free at airports, hotels, tourism offices and museums. Ah, yes, museums are aplenty all over here and in Europe. Unlike in Cebu where public and private schools do not encourage students to go to museums, everyone here is started very young on a life-long course of  museum appreciation, and eventually when they are about to die, endowments and benefices to museums if they are wealthy enough.

There are exceptions to the rule in Cebu, however. I know one teacher from Pit-os National High School and another from Abellana National School who, despite apparent rules dissuading teachers from bringing students on field trips (and a museum visit is considered one apparently), managed to bring their students to Museo Sugbo and USC Museum. But those are exceptions to the rule. The 125,000 or so students of the public schools system in Cebu City alone, if they go to all the museums of Cebu, would help sustain all these  emaciated museums hungry for funds to sustain their existence. (There aren’t  even tax breaks given to museums and related facilities in the Philippines.)

Third, and this is quite important, street signs pointing to tourist sites are all over these cities. You go to the central plaza and all other plazas in one city like Seville—and are they full of plazas—you won’t get lost because  all have  street signs. Seville is  exceptional in this regard in that it has retained its centuries-old one-lane narrow roads at the center of the city and yet is able to provide not just these signs but street names tacked on corners of buildings at the second story, way above any vandals and perverts who love to destroy these things.

The streets of Cebu City alone are missing so many street names, and this is because they are placed on metal poles. Why not follow the lead of Seville, Madrid and many other European cities and simply screw these street names on the wall of buildings at street corners?

Fourth, despite the near-freezing temperatures and foggy atmosphere in Valladolid, water  fountains were all over the place. It seems that every plaza  in Spain, as in the rest of Europe, has fountains. In Cebu, we used to have Fuente Osmeña gushing water by its  lonesome. Today it is a fountain (Spanish “fuente”) in name only. During the American period, as shown in old photographs, there was a fountain near the Magellan’s kiosk. That one disappeared after the war.

I will no longer point out the fact that there is virtually no traffic here despite the pedestrianization of the city center. The secret is a  mass transportation system, both above and underground, which will probably never happen in my lifetime in Cebu.

But some of these I have mentioned are doable. If only our politicians in the city stop bickering over morsels and look at the bigger picture. The 51st International Eucharistic Congress is just around the corner, bringing in an estimated 100,000 to a million visitors. How will they go around the city during their free time? The members of the Cebu Cultural and Historical Affairs Commission as well as the Cebu City Tourism Commission are no strangers to the things I have just mentioned. They too have seen these in Singapore, Hong Kong, and here in Europe. And they too should start thinking how these things can be done in Cebu…soon.

Or we can just make paeans to the potential of tourism as a revenue generator. And simply sit back and let  tourists go to the beaches, oblivious to the fact that Cebu has its own colorful culture and history worthy of their attention and interest.

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TAGS: Cebu, Cebu City, culture, Fort San Pedro, Plaza Independencia, Spain, Spanish

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