A Filipino diplomat at the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, recently coined the term “DH tourist”.
Attaché Saifoden “Ding” Manalao of the Assistance to Nationals of the embassy came up with the term due to the number of cases involving Filipino domestic helpers referred to him.
Diplomats, recruitment agency officials and tourism industry players, among others, will probably raise their eyebrows in disbelief or surprise.
“How could a housemaid afford a plane ticket to be a tourist in Riyadh?” they would probably ask.
Airfare, which does not cost peanuts, rises during the high season, like December or summer.
Other expenses related to transportation and accommodation are also incurred.
But the term DH tourist has gained traction. Filipino DHs continue leaving the Philippines for Saudi Arabia. And many of them asked to be sent home after a few days, weeks, or months because they could not cope with the job.
The increase in the number of DH tourists comes on the heels of a massive development in Saudi Arabia, enhancing its image as a rich country and a good workplace.
In 2021, Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed bin Aqail Al-Khateeb announced that the Kingdom planned to invest more than US$1 trillion in tourism over the next ten years.
The government aims to increase tourism’s contribution to the gross domestic product (GDP) from 3 percent in 2018 to more than 10 percent by 2030 and create one million jobs in the tourism sector, a necessity for the Kingdom’s growing youth population.
The country has also targeted attracting 100 million visits annually by 2030.
This includes 45 million domestic visits and 55 million international visits.
According to Lucidity Insight, by 2030, about 50 percent of visits to Saudi Arabia are expected to be for leisure, 32 percent for religious tourism, 10 percent to visit friends and relatives, and 9 percent for business.
One of those who had been attracted to work as a DH in the Saudi capital was Imee Sanchez (not her real name), 31, of Barobo, Surigao del Sur. She arrived in Riyadh on Dec. 13, 2023, but sent a text message on Dec. 19 asking for help, saying she wanted to go home.
She said she worked from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. the following day without rest.
“Nagagalit ang employer ko kapag nagpahinga ako. Ang problema ay hindi kami magkaintindihan. Hindi ako marunong mag-Arabic,” she said.
(My employer gets angry when I stop working to rest. The problem is we don’t understand each other. I don’t speak Arabic.)
She was an all-around DH. She cleaned the house, washed and ironed clothes, and did other household chores.
When told to continue working to save and have money when she went home, she said, ”Sir, hindi ko talaga kaya.”
(Sir, I really can’t handle the job.)
“Uuwi na lang ako kaysa mamatay ako dito,” she said.
(I’d rather go home than die here.)
Imee has kids while her common-law husband has no regular job. He is an on-call driver.
Aside from lack of rest, long hours of work, and difficulty in communicating with her employer, Imee is also homesick.
“Hindi ako binigyan ng koneksiyon sa wifi kaya wala akong komunikasyon sa aking pamilya,” she said.
(I wasn’t given a wifi connection, so I couldn’t communicate with my family.)
Her case was forwarded to retired career Ambassador Rafael E. Seguis, who referred it to Undersecretary Hans Leo J. Cacdac, the Department of Migrant Workers (DMW) officer-in-charge (OIC), and Attaché Manalao.
Another DH tourist was Lyn Lyn Gulas (also not her real name) of Barangay Cagaba in Catarman, Northern Samar, who stayed in Saudi Arabia for about two months.
She arrived in Saudi Arabia on November 12, 2021, working in Riyadh and Abha, 839 kilometers from the Saudi capital.
While she was with her first employer, Abdulaziz Al Fadil, a Saudi retiree, she was scandalized when his son showed her his private parts.
Aside from fear and panic, she was also in pain due to a wound from an operation much earlier in the Philippines. She complained to her agency, which pulled her out.
But, instead of sending her home, the agency transferred her to another employer in Abha, 839 km. away.
When she arrived in Abha in the Aseer Province near the Red Sea, she contracted the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and was quarantined. She kept asking her employer to allow her to return to Riyadh to work on her repatriation.
The employer turned down her request due to the hefty amount paid in hiring her but when she vomited blood, the employer took her to the bus terminal and paid her fare to Riyadh.
She was fetched at the bus terminal by Manalao and writer-interpreter-translator Sadeemar Manzao.
She stayed in a hotel rented by the MWO-OWWA (Migrant Workers Office-Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) for another two months before being repatriated on March 24, 2022.
She stayed in the Kingdom for a little over four months.