Pocholo Joselito Paragas currently has his hands full as Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA’s) Chief Operating Officer (COO) and General Manager (GM).

Paragas, a landscape architecture graduate from the University of The Philippines in Diliman, has honed his administration and management skills from two decades worth of experience with private enterprises and consultancy in banking and finance, land development, and tourism service industry.

As the COO and GM of TIEZA, Paragas is expected to not only implement policies and programs to develop, promote, and supervise tourism projects in the Philippines, but to also  improve the country’s tourism infrastructures as well.

Paragas had just finished signing the Memorandum of Agreement with the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) for the feasibility study and master plan for the development and operation of a cruise port in Manila when he sat down with Balikbayan Magazine for a quick interview in October.

1. Balikbayan Magazine (BBMag): What is your vision for TIEZA?

Paragas: My vision for TIEZA is making sure that we continue the mandate. To accomplish this, we have established the Five Pillars of TIEZA: 1) Enhancement of travel tax centers and improvement of the travel tax payment system; 2) Building targeted tourism infrastructures around the Philippines; 3) Rehabilitation and assessment of assets for public-private partnership; 4) Accreditation and expansion of Tourism Enterprise Zones (TEZs); and 5) Development  of the Manila cruise port. That’s what we’re focusing on.

2. BBMag: How does TIEZA contribute to the country’s economic development?

Paragas: We are guided by the National Tourism Development Plan. What we want to do — and basically our contribution — are these: 1) working on the cruise program, which is very much needed in the country; and 2) working on developing the countryside. Tourism should go beyond the main islands that we’re used to. Bring the tourists to the different places. Looking back, Batanes used to be small and unknown, people didn’t go there. But because of tourism, people are now visiting the province and enjoying its beauty. We want to replicate that in different places of the country and we have 7,000 places to do that. 7,000 islands. We can do it everywhere.

3. BBMag: What are the challenges you are facing in TIEZA?

Paragas: The biggest concern that we have with regards to TIEZA is that we have a lot of catching up to do. We can’t afford to have the mindset of “tourists will be coming here in two to three years so let’s build now.” Tourists have been coming here for two to three years, fifteen years, twenty years, and we should have built it a long time ago (so that’s what we’re trying to do).

4. BBMag: What are your future plans for TEZs?

Paragas: In terms of Tourism Enterprise Zones (TEZs), our biggest plan is to find ways to make it economical — not only for the government, but also for the private sector looking for investments in other countries. Bring them in. Go inside our Tourism Enterprise Zones. Build our hotels, build our facilities and make sure that we all enjoy the country but we all protect it as well. Protect our country and make sure all the laws of the land are complied with but still give them an environment conducive for development. Bring in growth. What we want to say is “Come here and build — but build it correctly.”

5. BBMag: What is the role of infrastructures to tourism sector?

Paragas: I will always say this: I am a family man; I have two kids and with one on the way. We want to make sure that 1) kids are safe; 2) the places are accessible; and 3) the places are maintained properly.

In terms of infrastructures for tourism, these are my rules. These are the things we have to do: make sure that the places you go to have police presence and have the pathways for accessibility, among others. One of our tourist markets that we have to look into are the persons with disabilities. We need to bring them out, we need for them to appreciate what our country has to offer.

Another thing are the senior citizens, the retirees. They cannot climb walls so find a way to make the place more accessible so they can see the beautiful views of the country. One of the biggest concerns of this country is wheelchair accessibility. What I want to happen is this: you don’t have to keep on putting out new technology. When you go to Japan and ride the train, you will see that the machines that dispense your tickets are the same machines that were there in the 60s. It’s reliable, accessible to everyone. When you go to Japan, you’re safe. We want to do that in this country — we will do that in this country.

6. BBMag: As the head of the new management of TIEZA, how do you envision the agency in 2018 in terms of helping the PH tourism industry?

Paragas: As I earlier mentioned, in terms of tourism, we have a lot of catching up to do but the biggest concern right now is direction. We need to make sure that the direction is set, that no matter what happens, moving forward — many years down the line — it is continued. We will not reinvent the wheel, we will just make sure that things are done correctly, on time and continuously.

Ritchel Mendiola
Ritchel Mendiola

Ritchel Mendiola is a feature writer based in the Philippines. In addition to writing for Balikbayan Magazine, she is a news correspondent for Asian Journal News-Manila.

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