By Carmencita A. Carillo
DAVAO CITY — It almost did not happen.
After the Philippines successfully hosted the Miss Universe 2016 pageant last month, Tourism Secretary Wanda T. Teo is now more than glad to tell the tale of how the Miss Universe Organization was ready to return the downpayment and cancel the event.
“I got a call from Paula Shugart (Miss Universe Organization president) saying it was canceled because of the negative perception and the anti-US sentiments from our end,” Ms. Teo said in a media forum here.
Prior to that call, the Department of Tourism’s (DoT) proposal for hosting the beauty pageant already received lukewarm support, with President Rodrigo R. Duterte refusing to spend public funds for the P12 million required by the organizers, covering P6 million in cash payment and P6 million for accommodations, land transportation, and other expenses.
Ms. Teo said she was able to find sponsors, including businessman and former Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit C. Singson, Solar Entertainment, Philippine Airlines, and hotel operator Okada Manila.
But just when everything was seemingly in place and the downpayment had been given to the organizers, women’s group Gabriela launched protest actions against the pageant.
“We kept this (Ms. Shugart’s call about the cancellation) among ourselves, but every time the President made a negative comment (against the US), we (almost) said ‘goodbye Miss Universe,’” she said.
The Tourism secretary, however, refused to give up.
She said that efforts were made to “look for connections to the Miss Universe” to help them convince the organization to push through with the Philippine’s hosting.
Their efforts bore fruit and the rest is history.
“It was all worth it,” Ms. Teo said.
The event’s impact on the tourism sector, Ms. Teo said, is expected to be felt within the next six months, and the DoT believes that Mindanao received good marketing exposure to counter other governments’ advisories against travel to the country’s southern island.
“When the candidates went to Siargao, we were able to show them that Mindanao is still safe,” she said.
A fashion show featuring some of the candidates wearing gowns made with various Mindanao fabrics was also held in Davao City.
“They did not even want to consider Davao for the show and they said it was not safe due to the bombing, but I fought for it,” Ms. Teo said, referring to the September 2016 incident in the city’s popular night market that killed 15 and injured at least 60 others.
“When the advance party came here (to Davao City), they were impressed with the preparations, so they agreed,” she said.
Ms. Teo said reports of inquiries from the global tourism sector have been increasing since the event.
“We can gauge (the impact) in six months time, the tourists arrivals,” she said.