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Is the Philippines Southeast Asia’s Next Hot Travel Destination?

Philippines sand caslte on Boracay beach Photo Credit #AccidentalTravelWriter
Building sand castles on White Beach in Boracay, Philippines. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

Travel + Tourism

The verdict is in. Three of the world’s top five islands are located within the same archipelago, what marketing professionals like to refer to as the Festive Philippines! What do industry insiders have to say?

According to a survey by the readers of Condé Nast magazine, Boracay came in first in the prestigious publication’s Top 20 Best Islands in the World 2016 power ranking.

Palawan came in second and Cebu came in fifth.

Ironically, I visited all three of these islands just a couple of months before the results of the survey were published.

Could I have planned it any better? And to think, it was all by ACCIDENT!!!

I was in the Philippines to attend TBEX Manila, and by coincidence I visited these very three islands after the conference ended.

My first was Palawan, which was part of a post-TBEX familiarization trip, which was organized by tourism officials.

My visits to Boracay and Cebu were based on personal contacts and some people I met at TBEX.

All I can say is, the Philippines have been Southeast Asia’s best kept secret for too many years!

Is that all about to change? Listen to what some tourism industry insiders have to say.

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Beachboy at White Beach in Boracay. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

The beaches are beautiful, the waters are pristine, the food is excellent, the landscapes are stunning, the prices are reasonable, and – perhaps most importantly – the people are warm and hospitable.

Filipinos seem to have a service mentality that is rarely matched anywhere else in the world.

You don’t feel like a visitor in their country. You feel like a guest.

The fact that English is widely spoken only adds to the charm!

“As a tourist destination, the Philippines is loaded with the attractions travelers dream of - lots of sun, gorgeous beaches, world-class scenery, adventure opportunities, friendly and hospitable locals, to name a few,” says Michael Celis, Director of Sales and Marketing, Discovery Primea, Makati, Philippines.

Michael believes that having the three islands land on the Condé Nast list will only boost the country’s tourism potential.

He says:

Boracay (Ranked #1)

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Hanging out with staff at Mr Holidays, a budget hotel on White Beach in Boracay.
 

“This itty-bitty island (just under 4 square miles) in the Western Philippines is as close to a tropical idyll as you’ll find in Southeast Asia, with gentle coastlines and transporting sunsets. Add in a thriving nightlife scene, and you have one of the top tourist spots in the region.”  

Michael Celis, Director of Sales and Marketing, Discovery Primea, Makati, Philippines.

Palawan (ranked #2)

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Approaching Club Paradise, an eco-resort in Palawan. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

“This small island is home to one of the new seven natural wonders of the world - the Puerto Princess Subterranean River.” 

Michael Celis, Director of Sales and Marketing, Discovery Primea, Makati, Philippines.

Cebu (ranked #5)

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Friendly service at Shangri-La's Mactan Resort and Spa on Cebu. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

"Cebu is famous for its beaches on the mainland as well as across many of the surrounding islands. Not as wild as Phuket in Thailand, Cebu City is more personal, with plenty of up-and-coming restaurants and shopping."

Michael Celis, Director of Sales and Marketing, Discovery Primea, Makati, Philippines.

Beautiful Destinations

Joy Bautista is Vice-president, Sales and Marketing of the One-of Collection, a locally-owned group of boutique resorts located in “beautiful destinations rich in culture, heritage, and natural attractions”.

The group currently owns and operates the Amorita Resort in Panglao Island, Bohol (96 rooms, suites, and villas); Momo Beach House, a 16-room beachfront gem in Panglao Island, Bohol; TheFunny Lion in Coron, Palawan (31 rooms); and Sta. Monica Beach Club (19 rooms), the only beachfront resort in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental.

“The Philippines has an abundance of beautiful natural attractions, including awe-inspiring world heritage sites such as the Underground River in Palawan and the Ifugao Rice Terraces,” Joy says.

“There are over 7,000 islands that are sure to offer something for everyone.  We are culturally diverse, innately good-natured and friendly, and we know how to have fun.”

Does that mean the Philippines is in line to become Southeast Asia’s next “hot” travel destination?

“Certainly!” Joy says.

“There are a lot of exciting new hotels and tour programmes, improved access, availability and ease of getting information online with the help of digital marketing, and basically increased competitiveness of our product and our people.”

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Catarans take eco-tourists on scuba-diving adventure tours. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

According to Josephine Lim, Managing Director for Southeast Asia, Preferred Hotels and Resorts, the Philippines saw a “healthy growth in international visitor arrivals from January to August” last year.

“This upward trend is most likely to continue over the next two years at least, putting the country in good stead of being the next ‘hot’ travel destination in Asia.”

The archipelago really does have a mind-boggling array of attractions. Could a tourist ask for anything more?

“Travelers are spoilt for choice when visiting the Philippines,” Josephine says.

“The country offers a plethora of renowned diving, caving, and trekking spots to choose from, more than 7,000 islands to explore, vestiges of unique Spanish-Filipino heritage, colonial architecture, and stone churches juxtaposed with modern skyscrapers and shopping malls, exuberant town fiestas, and endless dining options.”

International arrivals to the Philippines were up 12.59% in the first eight months last year compared to the year before.

Korea remained the country’s top source of arrivals, followed by the United States, China, Japan, and Australia.

Among the top 12 markets, China posted the highest growth of 50.29% followed by Taiwan, with a 30.58% increase.

India, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Canada showed consistent growth, mainly from the corporate sector, an industry report published by the Philippine government says.

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One of several swimming pools at Shangri-La's Mactan Resort and Spa. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

With so much going for it, the Philippines has not gone unnoticed by multinational corporations.

“MNCs are progressively increasing their presence and financial investments into the country – this is evident with the rapid development of Manila Bay and Fort Bonifacio Global City areas,” Josephine says.

“It has a great labour market with a large and growing young English-speaking population who are naturally warm and welcoming – traits that provide affinity for labour intensive service industries such as hospitality and food and beverage.

"The Philippines has also overtaken India as the call-centre capital of the world, becoming America’s top overseas site for voice-related work in business outsourcing.”

Multinationals Show Interest

While multinationals are showing increasing interest in investing in the country, the domestic market should not be overlooked.

“The domestic market still holds a lot of potential especially with the millennials, who are practically born with wanderlust in their genes,” Joy Bautista says.

“Everyone is traveling. Our regional markets are getting stronger, as well as North America, Europe, and Australia for Amorita and The Funny Lion.

"With closer political ties to China, this huge market will also propel our growth next year for Sta. Monica Beach Club and Momo Beach House.”

Still, the Philippines’ tourism industry faces significant challenges, and one of the biggest challenges facing the country is its infrastructure.

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Staff carrying luggage down the beach to an awaiting airport shuttle. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

The roads are certainly not as good as those in Thailand. And its airports – with the exception of Cebu – lag far behind other airports in the region.

“Growth in Philippine tourism is hampered largely by the lack of infrastructure - airports, seaports, roads, and bridges, inadequate access for foreign tourists to reach the country, and the relatively high cost of getting to the country,” says Discovery Primea’s Michael Celis.

But some would argue that the less than state-of-the-art infrastructure is part of the country’s charm, especially eco-tourists, who are more concerned with sustainability, adventure, and a more “genuine” travel experience than the latest whistles and bells.

With the exception of high-speed Wi-Fi, of course! That is one mod-com that few present-day travelers could do without!

As Michael M. Mahinay, Resort Manager at The Funny Lion, puts it, the infrastructure can meet current demand.

The question is, how can the infrastructure be upgraded to meet future demand without jeopardizing the pristine environment that is one of the country’s key attractions? 

“The community is still in the process of upgrading its infrastructure for the convenience of its guests,” Michael says.

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Beach-front Sand Bar at Discovery Shores in Boracay. Photo Credit: Accidental Travel Writer.

Olivier Chavy, CEO of Swiss-based Mövenpick Hotels and Resorts, is clearly upbeat.

“As we are all aware, the world is a challenging place in which to do business today, and the Philippines is no exception,” Olivier says.

“That said, the Philippines has so much to offer visitors: the people, the food – and of course our great properties!”

Rightly or wrongly, the Philippines has something of a “Wild West” reputation.

Typhoons are frequent and they can disrupt travel. There is the occasional volcanic eruption. There is an insurgency in the south.

Is the country safe for tourists?

Vote of Confidence

“The Philippines certainly has our vote of confidence – that is why we had no hesitation in investing there,” Olivier says.

“We currently have one hotel operating in Cebu, the Mövenpick Hotel Mactan Island Cebu, which is located on Mactan Island. It is a five-star beachfront hotel with 254 rooms, which opened its doors in December 2012.

“We also have a brand new 312 room beachfront property in Boracay, the Mövenpick Resort and Spa Boracay, which will open later this year.”

There are currently 83 hotels and resorts in 24 countries in the Mövenpick group, but only nine of them are located in Asia.

With 4.3 billion people, Asia accounts for 60% of the world’s population.

Is all that about to change?

“Of course, we are always looking for new opportunities in Asia,” Olivier says.

“We aim to reach 30 hotels operating in the region by 2020. The Philippines is a very interesting destination for us, especially Manila.”

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