Personnel from the City Tourism Department (CTD) assigned at the Puerto Princesa International Airport (PPIA) are not receiving commissions or extra pays from visitors who book tours through travel agencies, clarified a city tourism official.

Demetrio Alvior Jr., the head of the CTD, told Palawan News on Wednesday that a video circulating in various group chats is casting doubt on their credibility and integrity, and he wants to set the record straight to address any potential misconceptions stemming from it.

“Walang nangongomisyon sa amin sa airport. Masyadong malisyoso ang nasa video at halatang tina-target ang city tourism,” he said.

On January 13, a disturbance occurred at the city’s international airport when an Asian tourist was heard searching for their travel agency representative, whom they had spoken to but couldn’t locate. It features a woman inquiring whether the tourist had made arrangements through a city tourism officer at the airport.

The visitor, who seemed to have limited English proficiency, can be seen nodding and confirming that they were offered a rate of P700 per person and mentioned that they would be picked up by a representative of a travel agency.

She explained that they were instructed not to leave and wait, causing them to hesitate in joining other tours without having a clear understanding of the situation.

The exchange between the woman and the tourist continued, with their efforts to find the travel agency representative. But upon learning from others that the person they were looking for had already departed, the woman presented an alternative offer to the tourist for a comparable service at the same price.

Alvior explained that there wouldn’t have been any issue with the situation, as everyone aims to assist tourists arriving in Puerto Princesa. However, what they found concerning in the video was the woman’s malicious questioning and remark.

Alvior identified her only as Evelyn, a representative of Fortwally Travel & Tours.

He noted that Evelyn’s comment seemed spiteful and implied that their personnel assigned at the airport were receiving commissions for assisting tourists in locating travel agencies for their onward journeys.

Evelyn’s comment in the video can be heard as follows, “Instead of the tourism officer [giving] us protection, they are the [ones] who are [marketing] the guests. That’s very helpful to you, ok. The price is P700. They are also commissioner inside.”

Alvior strongly condemned this statement as highly malicious and an attack on their integrity, particularly given that Fortwally lacks the required permit to function as a travel and tour agency.

“Ang Fortwally, hindi siya dapat doon kasi travel agency siya. Pangalawa, wala siyang permit. Nakikipag-ulo-ulo siya, nakikipag-agawan siya, pinipilit nilang isakay, i-book ang mga turista. For hire sila, hindi dapat nakikipag-agawan at ulo-ulo ng mga turista,” Alvior stated.

“Yong nagtatanong, leading ang mga tanong niya. Yong turista di gaanong makapag-communicate sa English, oo na lang ng oo. Talagang malisyoso yong interview niya, talagang gusto niyang idiin na city tourism. Sa loob kasi [ng airport,] ang daming empleyado dyan, hindi lang tourism. Siya pini-pinpoint niya talaga city tourism. Si city tourism nag-assist lang doon sa turista kasi nga hindi niya makontak yong travel agency niya,” he added.

He admits that this is one of accompanying issues that arise alongside the resurgence of tourism due to the influx of visitors in need of primary services.

Solution to the problem
As a solution, he said stricter measures in the entry of travel agencies, shuttle vans, and other entities offering tourist services in the coming days will be implemented by the city tourism, in collaboration with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), following further meetings to resolve misunderstandings and other issues.

“Maglalagay na ng booth doon yong mga transportation at yong mga travel agencies na legitimate. Kasi nga ang daming mga colorum na nag-o-operate doon, lalo na yong mga travel agency na colorum, nag-u-ulo-ulo, which is bawal. Ang travel agency, for hire sila, pero sa sitwasyon, nakikipag-agawan sila doon sa mga PUV,” Alvior said.

“Kasi nagkakagulo na sila doon, kanya kanya na sila doon, may mga barker, naka short pa. Ang laki ng mga sinisingil nila,” he added.

CAAP Area IV Manager, Mohammad Naga Rascal, meanwhile, confirmed that they are reviewing entry regulations and will be designating a specific waiting area for authorized tour operators at PPIA to address the situation.

He noted that these measures are just a part of the broader actions they will soon implement to prevent unauthorized individuals from causing disruptions, which could potentially harm Puerto Princesa’s reputation in effectively managing its visitors and guests.

Rascal added that they have also requested the assistance of the tourist police in preventing these unscrupulous individuals from exploiting guests who simply want to enjoy a peaceful vacation in Palawan.

“Kinausap ko na ang tourist police tungkol dito para matigil ang problema na ginagawa nila. Kahit sino, kahit tao ko pa, we should act immediately to protect tourists kasi nakakahiya,” he said.

Language barrier
Michie Hitosis-Meneses, senior operations officer and promotions marketing chief of the CTD, clarified that when tourists inquire at the tourism booth in the airport, the staff’s role is to provide brochures for the tourists to choose from, and they do not endorse any specific agency.

“In the case of the foreign guest na hindi pa natin ma-identify ang nationality, nagkaroon ng language barrier. Pumunta sya sa tourism booth and nag-request sya ng travel agency kasi gusto nya mag-tour. So, gaya ng sinasabi namin doon sa staff, pumili ka ng brochure na nakalagay doon sa booth. So napili nya yung isang travel agency and tinawagan nya through Whatsapp,” Meneses told Palawan News.

“Bumalik siya sa booth kasi hindi sila magkaintindihan ng kausap nya sa agency kaya pumasok yung staff ng tourism office na naka-assign sa airpot at siya na ang gumawa ng bridge. Ang pinaka-problem talaga kasi is yung language barrier kaya nagkaroon ng misunderstanding and miscommunication,” she added.

Meneses further stated that the lady in the video interviewing the foreigner belongs to an agency that is not licensed by the tourism office to transact business and questioned her presence at the airport.

She also said no male personnel from the tourism office was present at the airport when the incident happened, noting that the supervisor was at the city hall the whole day yesterday.

“Yung hinahanap [ng tourist] na Bryan, siguro doon sa agency na napili niya, kasi wala naman kaming staff na Bryan,” Meneses said.

“Ang gusto ko lang namin i-emphasize, as much as possible, nagta-trabaho ng maayos yung mga tao sa airport and this one is with malicious intent na rin kasi nga meron din talagang mga may ginagawang hindi maganda sa airport and then, ibinibintang nila sa amin,” she lamented.

Meneses also stated that because of the incident, they will be strengthening their monitoring at the airport to catch colorum travel agencies that keep operating and transacting business.

She also said tourists who encounter problems should go to their office to file a complaint or send a notarized complaint to their e-mail for them to address the issues properly.

“We are encouraging tourists to visit our website to know our accredited travel agencies, accommodations and other tourism related establishments, then we will forward it to our legal office for filing of criminal cases,” she said.

Furthermore, to address the language barrier issue, Meneses said they are studying the possibility of using artificial intelligence applications for language translations.

“We will also put an interactive kiosk at the airport within the year,” Meneses said.

“Actually, pinaaral din natin yung ating frontliners ng mga basic languages like mandarin and Korean although hindi rin lahat ganoon kabilis maka-adapt,” she said.