Thursday, November 29, 2007

The other reports

Last Monday, I wrote about our country’s dismal ranking in the latest Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum. We ranked 71st among 131 countries in terms of overall competitiveness.

Actually, the report was just the most recent to be released by the forum. Other parallel reports that focused on regional and topical issues were released at different times during the year. All these provide an important context to the main competitiveness report. There’s the Global Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, the Gender Gap Report, the Global Information Technology Report, and then the competitiveness reports focusing on some geo-political groupings such as the African and the Arab world competitiveness reports.

As can be expected, most of the media hype was focused purely on the competitiveness report because it is, after all, the bigger and more comprehensive one. The other “smaller” reports were simply glossed over; some were totally ignored. Of course, the whole report was largely ignored by the local media.

All the reports are presented in index form, which means that the countries are ranked in comparison with the other participating countries based on specific criteria.

The travel and tourism report, for instance, which was released toward the middle of the year, ranked countries in terms of attractiveness as a travel and tourism destination. The rankings, covering 124 countries, were based on 52 factors including statutory regulatory framework, health and safety, infrastructure, local price levels, and aspects relating to the environment and culture. Officials of the World Economic Forum have taken pains to explain that the travel and tourism index was not a beauty contest or a judgment on the inherent attractiveness of a country but rather a measurement of a country’s overall progress in terms of developing itself as a travel and tourism destination.

The travel and tourism report was topped by Switzerland, followed by Austria, Germany, Iceland, the United States, and then Hong Kong, Canada and Singapore. Of the top 20 countries, only five are outside of Europe and North America.

The Philippines ranked 86th among 124 countries. We ranked lower than all our neighbors and we were clobbered in practically all factors—including, unbelievably enough—human, cultural and natural resources. We ranked a very low 100th in this factor. This is a major letdown because don’t we like to think that we are second to none in terms of human resource competencies and talent particularly in those that are relevant the hotel and restaurant industry? Don’t we brag about our so-called hospitality? And we do supply the manpower requirements of many hotels and tourism destinations of the countries that made it to the top of the list. So anyone out there looking for a fine example of the grave impact of the brain drain on our industries can just check out the report and weep.

I was struck by the travel and tourism report. I know that many countries are increasingly using tourism as a growth driver for their economies. Just like in the overall competitiveness report, the overall ranking is determined by a number of countervailing factors that effectively balance the equation. For example, Singapore ranked low (42nd) in terms of human, cultural and natural resources. This is expected because everyone knows that Singapore is multi-cultural and does not have ample natural resources. However, the country topped the list in terms of regulatory framework. In short, what they lacked in natural resources, they made up for with government resolve to make things easier for travelers.

India also ranked high (sixth) in terms of price competitiveness (yeah, prices in India are almost ridiculously cheap) and participation in tourism fairs (fourth) but was severely hampered by lack of effective marketing and branding (59th). As a result, India only managed to rank 65th in terms of overall attractiveness as a travel destination.

Yet another report that accompanied the global competitiveness report was the Gender Gap Report. This report measures the size of the gap between men and women in four critical areas, namely, economic participation and opportunity (equity on salary levels, participation levels and access to high-skilled employment), educational attainment (access to basic and higher level education), political empowerment (representation in decision-making structures), and health and survival (life expectancy and sex ratio).

So how did our country fare in terms of efforts to address the gender gap? Well, what do you know, we performed spectacularly! We ranked sixth overall, higher than the United States, and even higher than all other Asian countries. Other columnists have already discussed the fine points of the gender report so I will not go into that anymore.

I am sure that there are people out there who will question the reliability of the rankings by insisting that the women in this country are far from being empowered both politically and economically. They will point out, and quite correctly, that many among our women continue to languish in poverty and various forms of oppression and degradation. These may be true. In a poor country such as the Philippines, women are poorer and bear the brunt of the problem.

There are many ways to read the report. One way is to look at it as an indicator of the great strides the women’s movement in the country has achieved in terms of creating the right social and cultural framework; which unfortunately still has to produce the desired results in the actual lives of Filipino women.

Another way is to look at the report as a barometer of social and political factors that need to be put in context in specific cultures. For example, it may be true that women in the Philippines have better access to education, political rights, even health and other cultural rights compared to say, the women of all the Arab countries (they occupied the lowest tier of the rankings) or to the women of the United States (which ranked very low in the report). This does not mean of course that Filipino women can feel superior compared to the women of all these other countries despite the democratic space being enjoyed. In fact, I wonder how many American or Arab women would like to trade places with Filipino women just because of the favorable ratings in certain factors of the report.

But still, there is no denying that the high ranking of the Philippines in the gender gap report should still be a source of pride for our country. And it’s not just because it’s one of the few times that we find ourselves right there at the top in comparison with other countries. It is also a report that measures some things that, in the end, are probably what truly matters—respect for others, concern for equality and perhaps, even our very humanity.

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