By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman
THERE will be 10 regular holidays and nine special non-working days in 2016, the Palace recently announced. Are you planning a Holy Week sojourn in Siquijor? Or would you rather stay in bed, read, and do a TV series marathon instead, because, alas, you’ve had enough of a travel “ adventure” already — that is, the everyday traffic and exhausting LRT/MRT commute?
It’s more fun in the Philippines that it deserves another visit, so said the Department of Tourism (DoT) and Tourism Promotions Board (TPB). Recently they announced next year’s travel campaign, “Visit the Philippines Again 2016.” And the government is targeting 10 million tourist arrivals in 2016.
But the more important issue is whether tourists are prepared for traveling in the Philippines as we know this discomfort.
The Philippines is a country (an archipelago at that) that could have long ago developed the complementary infrastructure for its geographical diversity — with the same scope and vision committed by our colonizers, of all people. Today, it is broadly acknowledged that travel conditions have worsened through the decades — with the amenities of vacationing established in the travel destinations but not in the trip itself.
To travel from point A to point B, one needs to get up early so as not to miss a flight because, chances are, traffic is heavy on all roads leading to the airport.
“People would really love to come to the Philippines but they are unable to come to the country because of the issue of access,” TPB chief operating officer Domingo Ramon C. Enerio III told reporters on the sidelines of a recent conference. But he also said these problems are “temporary setbacks” and expressed the hope that the Philippines would have the “best airport in the region” soon.
Because despite some recent improvements in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), this airport continues to make the news in terms of its now-faulty infrastructure and still ranks among the worst in the world — the eighth worst airport last year, according to the Wall St Cheat Sheet.
But improvements continue to be made. Early this year, the airport had a makeover–refurbished with new air conditioners, lights, ceiling, and flooring. And in July, its Terminal 3 opened a new transit lounge.
Outside Metro Manila, infrastructure projects are underway, aimed at lessening traffic, connecting regions, and opening new travel routes.
The influx of tourists is another (good) problem. According to the DoT, the “Visit the Philippines Year 2015” campaign drew in 2.26 million foreign tourists in the first half of the year. Earnings from tourism activities in the first six months amounted to P111.05 billion, the department also said, while jobs generated reached 4.9 million.
Mr. Enerio said the remaining “ber” months, being traditionally the peak season, is expected to generate more tourist arrivals. The DoT is targeting 5.5 million tourist arrivals this year.
Where are they going to stay? Mr. Enerio said there are 8,000 new hotel rooms in Metro Manila alone. There are also new hotels in Iloilo that are ready for accommodation. For backpack travelers, the DoT has accredited homestay options in 29 tourist areas like Boracay and Baguio.
The Philippines indeed offers much more, beyond Metro Manila’s congestion problems — which unfortunately is where all stops are inevitable. But, yes, there’s more to offer in this “tropical paradise,” as some international travel magazines would tag us.
Where are the best diving spots to see our fish and corals in their abundance? There’s the municipality of Donsol (called the whale shark capital of the world) in the Bicol province of Sorsogon, Sabang Beach in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, and Coron in Palawan (called the wreck diving capital thanks to a sunken Japanese ship), and Tubbataha Reef in Palawan, a UNESCO World Heritage site (which unfortunately was damaged by a US Navy Ship two years ago).
To gather more tourists, the DoT and TPB are tapping personalities from a wide range of sectors to promote the Philippines and “to speak about the wonderful destinations we have in the country.”
“It’s more fun in the Philippines. It feels like you’re in a dream,” Filipino-American rapper Apl de Ap (Allan Pineda Lindo) sang in his “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” music video, as featured in the travel/trade event Philippine Travel Exchange (PHITEX) on Sept. 2. That video may well be a followup to his 2009 song “Take Me to the Philippines,” also in partnership with the DoT.
“Apl de Ap is a willing ambassador. We’ll be seeing more of him in our tourism campaign. He wants to share to all the Filipinos who have been too long in the US [what the Philippines has to offer],” Mr. Enerio said
Mr. Apl de Ap said he’s proud to be a Filipino and his tourism crusade includes encouraging foreigners and expats to visit the Philippines.
While this year brought Pope Francis and One Direction to the Philippines, the lineup of events in 2016 will include, among others, Madrid Fusion Manila 2016 (this year’s convention was a sweet success) for foodies; Asian Tourism Forum and Routes Asia for businessmen; MTV Music Evolution and Malasimbo Music Festival for concertgoers and music lovers (plus, the Madonna will also come to Manila); and Ironman 70.3 Asia-Pacific Championship for sports fans.
Amid endless traffic tales and commuter woes, there is much beauty elsewhere in the Philippines even if that quality has vanished in the capital. Discover (or rediscover) the beauty of Palawan, Batanes, Marinduque or Dumaguete (the fourth best retirement place, according to Forbes magazine). Yes, the Philippines deserves another visit–again and again.