1. Because this is what peace of mind looks like; 2. Because these are shades of blue and green that don’t even exist in the rest of the world; 3. Because there is no sound as calming as waves washing onto a secluded beach. READ FULL STORY
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Three beaches in the Philippines landed on CNN’s “100 Best Beaches” list. These are Palaui Island in Cagayan Valley (No. 10), El Nido in Palawan (No. 14) and Puka Beach in Boracay (No. 84). CNN cites Palaui’s “raw beauty’, calls El Nido “the gateway to adventure”, and bills Boracay “a tropical paradise”. READ FULL STORY
By KC M. Abalos
The recipe for the perfect wedding—warm weather, a lovely sunset, and really good food—where to find these?
According to a study by the Department of Tourism, within the period of 2007 and 2008, there was a 14% growth rate for foreign nationals choosing to get married here in the Philippines. And based on the increase of the total number of inbound visitors for January and February 2011, which reached 668,625 and showing a 17.88% growth compared to the arrivals for the same period in 2010, the industry of “destination weddings” becomes even more promising.
The popularity of destination weddings has risen globally, totally in keeping with the rise of travelling in general. There is a growing number of couples worldwide who wish to have a unique celebration of their union in some exotic destination. These, along with the number of young Filipino professionals who work abroad, fall in love, and who come home just to get married, make destination weddings a blossoming aspect of the travel industry that the Philippine government really has to take seriously.
The DOT is aware of the potential of this opportunity and has since been active in “assisting the private sector of the tourism industry in marketing tour packages and/or in collaborating with international travel companies for the promotion of the Philippines as a perfect wedding and romantic honeymoon destination in the Asia-Pacific.”
The DOT has taken steps in marketing various Philippine destinations as venues or locales for pre-nuptial shoots, wedding proper, reception, and honeymoon sites. Each purpose interconnected with each other but at the same time demands a different approach in terms of promotion and advertising. This is where the private sector comes in, meaning the travel and wedding industry has been vigilant in this regard.
The Philippine Tour Operators Association, the Philippine Travel Agencies Association and the Philippine Association of Wedding Planners all work together in ensuring that the Philippines enjoys its generous share of the market. With travel exhibits crossing over to wedding expos and vice versa, these industry organizations are making certain that the Philippines remains a viable option for couples who are searching for where they will hold their ideal wedding.
The DOT cites the Kasal Pilipinas as an example. Kasal Pilipinas is a registered business in San Francisco, USA, which held a wedding forum and exhibit in the area, making it possible for the Filipino community to keep in touch with the latest trends in the industry.
Wedding shows also abound. Handled by Themes and Motifs, the biggest is the Wedding Expo which is on its 18th year. This June 18 & 19, the Wedding Summit will also commence just in time to usher in the bridal month.
Engaged couples who are in the throes of panic due to overwhelming planning can be assured that their day will be perfect because they can easily choose and hire professional suppliers who can deliver the best services.
A note about the rise in professionalism in the Philippine wedding industry needs to be mentioned at this point. From events coordination to flower arranging, cake artistry to creative photo and video coverage, the staggering quantity of choices is insurance enough for quality services. Brides can now join online forums, compare prices, and discuss with other brides whom they will hire to get their money’s worth.
Planet Philippines lists down the top 10 reasons why you should marry in the Philippines. These are based on the unique and wonderful things that make the country stand out.
1. Fabulous food – With the Filipinos’ ability to absorb culinary tastes from far-off lands, engaged couples can choose to feed their guests with a wide array of flavors. From original Filipino dishes to food that is closer to your hearts and tummies, ask and it shall be sautéed, broiled, and delivered.
2. Bells a-ringing – With over thousands of beautiful churches (and not just Catholic ones, mind you), there is no other place in the world where the sacrament of matrimony is taken as seriously as here.
3. Beaches galore – Is it a beach, blanket, bingo beginning you’re wishing for? We have 7, 100 beautiful islands with all kinds of beaches—sandy or stony, white or black, even pink ones to choose from!
4. Flowery speech – A country known for its diverse variety of flora (and fauna), we warn that bees bothering your walk down the aisle is a strong possibility because of the amount of blossoms you can splurge on.
5. Animal love – Speaking of fauna, our four-footed or winged pals have always been welcome guests in a Filipino wedding. Doves kissing, butterflies flitting, and cows delivering a bride to her groom is not unheard of.
6. Honeymoon check! – Where else can you hold a wedding ceremony and then move on to your honeymoon that is only a banca or a tricycle ride away?
7. For a song – The Pinoy’s love for music is equal only for their love of food. Book a band or a DJ. Hire a string quartet or an entire choir. Ask them to sing you a kundiman (traditional Filipino love song) or an Iron Maiden cover and they will indulge.
8. Monique Lhuillier, et al – US-based top bridal gown designer Monique Lhuillier is Pinay and even if you can’t afford her, rest assured her other Filipino colleagues can sew, bead, and dress you to your liking.
9. Quirky indulgence – If your tastes tend to lean on the quirkier side, our islands are ready to pander to them. Hot air balloons, skydiving, zip lining, and other adventures are readily available.
10. Tradition to a T – Offer eggs for a sunny wedding day. Throw rice onto the newly married couple for luck. Make sure ceremonial candles don’t get blown out by the wind. This weird country has a hundred and one wedding traditions and beliefs that will ensure wedded bliss.
Thousands of church bells are ready to ring for anyone who wants to get married in the Philippines. From the windy hills of Tagaytay to the white sandy beaches of Boracay, the country’s varied topography would fit anyone’s idea of an exotic destination.
By Pepper Marcelo
Experiencing the country in different ways. That is the mantra that local tour operators and the Department of Tourism (DOT) are conveying to foreign and domestic tourists interested in exploring the archipelago. The “Philippine Travel Mart,” was held recently to showcase prime destinations, special tour packages and other travel opportunities to prospective buyers and consumers. It was co-sponsored by the Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA) and the DOT.
Whether it be touring the city of Manila by boat on the Pasig River, or partaking in an exotic, culinary-themed tour of Pampanga, or engaging in more physically-oriented activities in typical relaxation areas such as Boracay, repeat clients and visitors are being offered a more adventurous, unique tourism experience.
“Yung ganda ng bansa is everywhere,” says Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano. “However, what has been happening in the last three years is that a lot new places have been developed. A lot of new places are part of the mainstream tourism traffic of the country already. People want to get new information before exploring, and this is the place.”
In 2008, the DOT and PHILTOA formulated a National Ecotourism Strategy Initiative to provide an assortment of new activities to entice tourists and to promote the protection and conservation of the environment as well.
“We’re proudly showing to the world that we’re taking care of the environment,” says Cesar Cruz, general manger of PHILTOA. “Eco-activities are nature based. You have to have good rivers, good forests and a good habitat for wild animals and flora and fauna.”
In 2009, the DOT and PHILTOA developed 24 adventure tour packages, also called modules, with specialized themes and concepts building on what each province and region can to offer. For example, for surfing and kayaking enthusiasts, there’s “Paddle & Surf” in Pangasinan’s Hundred Islands, as well as in La Union and Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte. On kayak boats, tourists could go explore coves and islets. And though the country is not known to be a premier destination for surfing, the coastal towns of La Union offer several spots promising consistent “waves and breaks.”
For those that want both a land and sea escapade, “Crawl & Row” offers spelunking (or cave exploring) at Nueva Vizcaya’s Capisanan Cave System, as well as whitewater rafting at the Chico River in the Cordilleras. Then there’s Sagada in Mountain Province with caves so deep they appear to extend down to the ends of the earth. Also up north in Tuguegarao is the famous Callao cave, and down south, in Palawan, there is the St. Paul National Park with its caves that can be explored through the underground river.
Also popular among trekkers and trail-hikers is Mt. Pinatubo, which traverses the provinces of Pampanga, Tarlac and Zambales, where one can view the spectacular landscape. The area is also very popular among 4X4 enthusiasts who enjoy riding through creeks, dunes and rocks.
For a more immersive, cultural experience, there’s “Every Island, an Adventure,” with a wide assortment of activities the whole family can enjoy. Unique activities include oyster gathering in Calamianes Group of Islands and a safari tour of Calauit Game Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary, both in Palawan.
Not for the faint-hearted, there’s “Tuna, Tubing & Tibolis” in Sarangani province with its local version of the bouncy, soaking, white-water rafting, called “tubing” (where instead of a traditional raft, the passengers sit on recycled rubber tires).
For its part, Cebu has a number of beautiful islands to explore. Famous beaches like those in Sumilon, Malapascua, Camotes and Bantayan islands present a variety of physically-oriented prospects, such as jet skiing, parasailing, snorkeling and banana boat riding. With ample attractions, beach front Cebu hotels, adventures and restaurants, Cebu invites travelers for enjoying a remarkable vacation.
Farther down south, Davao is a popular locale for extreme sports, with activities like hiking, trekking, snorkeling, diving, bungee-jumping, bird-watching, island-hopping and camping. There’s the “Highlands to Islands” tour, which consists of a tuna dinner, Philippine Eagle and wildlife tour, mountain biking and zip-lining on the longest zipline in the region.
Other specialized-theme activities for tourists include, but are not limited to, “Rafting & Rappelling,” which encompasses whitewater rafting, zipline and cultural immersion in Cagayan de Oro and rappelling in Camiguin; “Hike & Wave,” which consist of wakeboarding in Camarines Sur and climbing Mt. Mayon in Albay; the “Bicol Xpress,” which also includes wakeboarding in Camarines Sur, but with the added bonus of a whale-shark interaction tour in Donsol; and “Rock & Surf,” which consists of rock-climbing in Atimonan and surfing in Daet.
Activities are not limited to sports. There are also special educational opportunities for visitors to interact with local residents and learn about indigenous cultures such as that of the T’boli tribe of Lake Sebu in Mindanao.
“Tourists can have the chance to do a cultural diversion, to live with the natives and learn from them,” says Cruz. “It’s a very educational and positive activity.”
Durano says he has sampled every tour adventure module and thoroughly enjoyed them. “I like being outdoors and experiencing nature in different ways. Whether it be spelunking, rappelling, or kayaking, I enjoy experiencing things with some physical activity.”
Cruz says that it’s not only foreigners that are getting into these activities, but the locals as well. “More and more of our countrymen are beginning to appreciate them. Even surfing, it used to be an unknown activity here. But now, you go to places like La Union, you see Filipinos conducting surfing clinics.”
With rural provinces and islands naturally getting most of the attention due to their exotic and relaxing atmosphere, Metro Manila has been gradually losing its appeal. To prop up its touristy draw, the government and the private sector have teamed up to introduce the Pasig River Travel Cruise, a unique way of touring the metropolis aboard air-conditioned boats that cruise the Pasig. Besides providing a different view of the city, peripheral tours corresponding to each station destination have been developed. At the Binondo station, for example, tourists can embark the boat and go on a culinary walking tour of Chinatown. In historic Sta. Ana, there’s the Heritage Tour, where visitors can explore archeological finds and heritage structures. On Lawton, there’s the “Manila Madness Tour,” where shoppers can visit the nearby tiangges and malls. Last, but not least, there’s the Walled City of Intramuros, with its own distinct historical walking tour.
No matter the location or one’s preference — whether to relax and simply enjoy the view and breeze, or engage in the most strenuous of physical adventures — the Philippines has it.
“A lot of our kababayans abroad, when they left the country, the tourism industry in the country was still in its infancy stage,” says Durano. “It’s not in their minds that if they want to have a good experience during a vacation, they can do it here in the Philippines. Today, they can do that. In the past, people would just come home to visit their friends and family. You can do that and at the same time have some ‘R and R.’ There are so many places and things you can do here.”
By Pepper Marcelo
When one visits a foreign country for the first time, the first and sometimes only native person he encounters is the tour guide. Not only does this person introduce and explain the history, culture and landmarks of the country, but a more crucial element is that the guide frequently becomes the de facto representative of an entire people. Questions that are often asked upon their return: “Were they friendly?”, “Did they have good manners?”
Thus, it is essential to put one’s best foot forward in order to make the best impression upon visiting guests. After all, a satisfied visitor that was treated well will more likely visit again (and again) and through positive word of mouth, recommend that country to friends and family. This bodes well for that nation’s local tourism industry and, in turn, contributes to the overall economy.
Cognizant of this, the Department of Tourism (DOT) has created a program called “Mabuhay Guides” to train extensively an eager group of men and women to become not only the most knowledgeable and friendly tour guides, but, in essence, be “ambassadors of a nation.”
With the improvement of many sectors of the tourism industry, it was only logical that tourist guides themselves get an upgrade.
“The quality of hotels, the service of our airlines, the travel agencies, the tour operators are improving. There was a missing component that was very important in enhancing the tourist experience, and that was the tourist guide,” says Tourism Secretary Ace Durano.
“We needed a new breed of tour guides that has different perspective, sees the Philippines differently,” he adds. “No matter how you train someone as a tour guide, how you feel about your product and how you feel about your country will really come out. So we needed a fresh perspective.”
Another proponent of the program is Susan Calo-Medina, producer-host of the ANC show Travel Time.
“The Philippines has long been known for its beautiful vistas and a warm, welcoming people,” she says. “By developing both, the Department of Tourism hopes to create an unbeatable combination.”
An advertisement for DOT tourist guides was placed on Calo-Medina’s program and local newspapers, and over 200 aspirants from various disciplines – from teachers to advertising professionals – applied. After a rigid screening, the list was trimmed to a core group of 25.
“I see tour guiding as an extension of teaching. Whereas I used to teach inside a classroom, I now teach outside the confines of classroom, with the [tourist] sites themselves as my visual aides,” explains Irene Fernandez why she joined the program.
The first batch of Mabuhay Guides underwent an intensive six-week training course on many aspects of Philippine culture – from history, arts, architecture, and geography, to the environment, cuisine and music.
“Our first batch of graduates comes from different backgrounds, different professions and went through such a rigorous program taking seminars from the best resource persons,” says Durano.
The lecturers were experts and luminaries in their respective fields, including National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario, UP Humanities Professor Felipe de Leon Jr. and former Central Bank Governor Jaime Laya, who is an avid antique and art collector.
“What attracted me [to the program] were the lecturers,” says Therese Carlos. ”I wanted to undergo training under these prominent people in their respective fields.”
The guides also underwent training in various skills and subject matters, such as grooming, good manners, health issues, personality development and first aid. Moreover, representatives from the prestigious London Blue Badge, the premier qualification group for tour guides in Britain, engaged the trainees in rigorous, on-site sessions by bus and foot.
The rigorous and specialized instruction demonstrate that tour guiding is more than simply dishing out historical and cultural facts, but, more importantly, it is connecting with, and even entertaining, a discriminating audience.
“I realize that tour guiding involves developing a lot of empathy for the tourist, so we think about his safety and comfort, and how he reacts to what we’re saying,” says guide Yael Fernandez.
After the training, Mabuhay Guides are given their certificate and an official badge. Because the program is associated with the DOT, the graduates became fully accredited members of the World Federation of Tourist Guide Association.
In a speech during the graduation ceremonies, Fernandez said, “Our reason for joining was one and the same: all of us share the same vision, a strong desire to share our talents for the benefit of the tourism industry and the Philippines. We consider it an honor and privilege to be called Mabuhay Guides, and we are committed to serve the department and be the best we can be so that other people can appreciate the country the way we do.”
Currently, the Mabuhay Guides are individually deployed on an appointment basis through the DOT, servicing an assortment of visitors from all over the world – business investors, trade industry players and niché travelers – in and around the Metro Manila area. Trips include visits to the Walled City of Intramuros covering such historical sites as Fort Santiago, Manila Cathedral, San Agustin Church and Palacio del Gobernador. The city itinerary also covers neighboring Binondo, Escolta and Quiapo.
Visitors and guides explore the city by bus and on foot along main roads like Roxas Boulevard and Ayala Avenue and by boat on the Pasig River. The DOT is working on expanding the tour routes to neighboring provinces like Batangas, Cavite and Rizal.
Becoming a Mabuhay Guide has expanded one’s initial objectives of gaining employment and traveling.
“I envision that my tour guiding would impact on nation-building, that this will not be a simple job for me, but something that would influence my fellow countrymen to be proud of the Philippines and for us to really promote tourism in the country,” says guide Maria Morena Galvelo.
Calo-Medina concurs: “We all have a Mabuhay Guide in each of us, waiting to be let loose. All we have to do is know more about our country and our culture and share it with the world.”
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