Tag archive for "tourism"




6 Comments 12 February 2010

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.”




1 Comment 24 January 2010

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.”




No Comments 23 January 2010

By Amadís Ma. Guerrero

At C-5 Road in Taguig City, Metro Manila, near my residence, the car bearing friends Odette and Binggirl of the Earth Day Philippines Network hove into view, and we were on our way. It was to be ecotourist tour, with equal emphasis on the environment; and our destination was the heritage town of Taal in Batangas, its Pansipit River, and nearby Lake Taal, the historic body of water and ecological wonder.

We took the Tagaytay route, less traffic and more scenic. Tagaytay the ridge city remains a prime piece of real estate for entrepreneurs and Manila residents seeking to build a resthouse in that cool hideaway. There are now a bewildering number of restaurants, hotels and inns, mansions and subdivisions. But from time to time along the ridge, there were views of Taal Volcano and the lake, as beautiful as ever from a distance.

Odette was enchanted; she hadn’t passed this way for some time. The problems concerning the lake were not evident from here.

Then we reached Batangas and the highway curved downward towards the lowlands, passing through San Nicolas and Agoncillo, with a lot of greenery still around. Then came bustling Lemery and finally, after a relatively brief ride of more than two hours, Taal, with its stairway dedicated to the first Filipino saint Lorenzo Ruiz, miraculous Our Lady of Casaysay Church along the Pansipit River, and row of 19th century ancestral homes leading to the plaza, where stands the mighty San Martin de Tours Basilica, its majesty now marred by a new belfry which looks like an infant formula bottle (biberon, as one resident irreverently told me during a previous visit).

Taal has a rich history and, during the Spanish regime, was the capital of the province, also named Taal (now Batangas). The area it covered stretched from the lake-volcano to Balayan Bay. It was a progressive area, Taaleños (Batangueños) being hardworking. But a catastrophic eruption of Taal Volcano in 1849 wrought havoc upon the lakeshore districts, followed by a severe earthquake in 1849.

The sitios and barrios – Lemery, Bauan, San Nicolas, Santa Teresita, San Luis and Alitagtag – became towns. And Taal itself was transformed into a sleepy, quiet little town overlooking Balayan Bay. It is a living museum town, not quite on the scale of Vigan in the North but still an important reminder of what is worth preserving from the past.

There are many landmarks in Taal, among them the Agoncillo ancestral home, or the Marcella Agoncillo Historical Landmark which is run by the National Historical Institute.

Marcela Agoncillo’s claim to fame in Philippine history is that she sewed the Philippine flag which was displayed during the inauguration of the First Philippine Republic on June 12, 1898. This was at the request of President Emilio Aguinaldo. Marcela and her husband Felipe were also in exile then in Hong Kong.

The museum, restored and well maintained, has antiques, mementoes and artifacts associated with ancestral homes. But what caught my eye were old books in Tagalog, English and French; the latter were acquired while the couple was in the Crown Colony.

Near the Agoncillo home is another architectural gem, an ancestral home built in the late 19th century, and now oddly named Villa Tortuga as a tribute to the marine turtle (pawikan) which can occasionally be seen in the nearby river.

The house still reeks of elegant, bygone days and has original planks for floors, capiz-shell windows, long table, vintage photographs, chandeliers, family piano, a mural depicting the countryside, paintings, staircase, multimedia artworks, and santo. The designer who rents the house has added antiques from his own collection.

And it was to this house that we repaired to for lunch cum briefing on the ecological state of Lake Taal. Our host for the delicious meal (which included tawilis fish, a delicacy from the lake) was renowned glass sculptor Ramon Orlina, who is a favorite son of Taal.

Also present were staffers from the local and regional DENR (Department of Environment & Natural Resources) and consultants.

The consensus was that Lake Taal, which is a prime ecotourist attraction in Southern Tagalog, is in a lamentable condition ecologically (tagilid) due to pollution, overfishing, and proliferation of fish cages. The prized fish maliputo is becoming an endangered specie.

 Talks are ongoing with the mayors of the surrounding towns, and most are cooperating, submitting the names of owners of fishpens which have to be dismantled. These cages have to be reduced to a tolerable level. One mayor, however, seems to be protecting the fishpen owners. Koreans are believed to be the investors/ silent partners in these ventures.

Later we chatted with Peter Capotosto of Sail Philippines, an Italian-American who is a longtime resident of Batangas, and an ecological consultant/coordinator.

“The pollution comes from residents and businesses like the resorts,” Capotosto said. “They are dumping sewage directly into the lake. Taal is a living lake but it is dying. A lot of people also dump their garbage into the rivers that flow down to the lake, including the Pansipit, which is the only river that drains out into the sea.” Pansipit runs through four towns- Taal, Lemery, Agoncillo and Balayan.

 Another source of pollution is fish feed, which is actually chicken waste (s–t). “You see piles and piles of this chicken feed,” the environmental specialist said. “There is a simple solution. Just classify fish feed as solid waste, and you are not allowed to dump solid waste into the lake.” But pollution, he added, is worse in the area of the fish cages.

“The lake used to be very clear but it is now murky,” Capotosto concluded. “You cannot see a fellow diver only several feet away. And this is a tourist zone!”




2 Comments 23 January 2010

 Although the Philippines brands itself as a destination of more than 7,000 islands, tourism industry investors have until recently focused most of their energy on the tropical island paradise of Boracay.

 Discovered by backpackers in the 1980s, the small island in the Western Visayas that boasts long stretches of spectacular white-sandy beaches has become the country’s most developed tourism location, attracting more than 60 percent of the country’s foreign leisure travelers. In 2007 it attracted more than 600,000 visitors, 8 percent more than in 2006.

 In contrast to the rest of the country, Boracay, with a capacity of over 2,000 rooms, caters to both luxury and budget segment travelers, and is well served by local airlines.

 However, there is now consensus among local tourism insiders that Boracay has reached its saturation point and may lose its paradise appeal if it tries to accommodate larger volumes of visitors.

 “Boracay is not like Bali in Indonesia. It is quite a small island that cannot expand to accommodate large numbers of visitors,” a local tour operator told OBG. The focus of tourism authorities is now on diversifying the country’s hospitality product range in order to reach the declared target of 5 million visitors by 2010. Although efforts have been made to promote alternative destinations, Boracay nevertheless continues to dominate the Philippine tourism industry.

Only Cebu has arguably managed to compete with Boracay. Established as the new gateway to the Visayas, the island enjoys a strategic geographical location, offering both an international airport and an array of small virgin islands off its coast The island hosted nearly 1.5 million visitors in 2007, 19 percent more than in 2006. However, it is important to note that most of these were business travelers. Cebu’s product range is much more limited than Boracay’s, as it is focused primarily on the high-end segment epitomized by such lavish international accommodation as Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & Spa. It has also marketed itself successfully as a new destination for convention, diving and heritage tourism.

Budget travelers

The new wave of travelers to the Philippines is most likely to come from mid-range budget travelers, supported by aggressive expansion of low-cost airlines; rising incomes in Asian countries, such as China; and an increase in long-haul travelers from Scandinavia, Germany and, most recently, Russia.

Indeed, the Philippines has been experiencing high growth in travelers from all over the globe. Most significantly, visitors from China rose by 194 percent from 2006 to 2007, as well as by 34 percent for visitors from Europe and 28 percent from the US. Overall growth has remained in the high single digits throughout 2008.

Yet, this falls short of some 600,000 new arrivals the country needs to attract to stay on track for its 2010 arrival target.

The industry as a whole shares the common problem of a lack of transport connectivity and local infrastructure that can cater to new arrivals. In the absence of prerequisite infrastructure guarantees, investors hesitate to put their money in new tourism destinations.

The World Economic Forum Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report released in 2008 ranked the Philippines 86th in the world behind its regional rivals Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, due to low marks for infrastructure and business environment. This is in spite of its ninth ranking in terms of price competitiveness and high potential in human resources for the hospitality sector.

While there is no lack of recognition that the country urgently needs to upgrade its infrastructure, opinion seems to diverge on which tourist areas should be prioritized. Big-ticket spending has so far been limited to expanding the capacity of Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, expected to become the main gateway for the country as a whole. However, this will not necessarily improve access to regional islands, the primary destination for foreign travelers. A majority of regional airports that are key to tourism expansion are still unable to accept larger international aircrafts, thus constraining growth and further investment.

Palawan beckons

A case in point is Palawan, which in 2007 was rated the best island destination in Southeast Asia by National Geographic Traveler magazine. It has long been considered the hottest new alternative to Boracay, offering pristine tropical nature, unique World War II shipwreck dives and white sandy beaches.

Palawan’s attractiveness as a new tourism investment destination was confirmed by Singapore-based Banyan Tree Holdings, which announced earlier in 2008 that it will invest approximately $70 million in two new resorts in Palawan. A number of local investors who have succeeded in Boracay are also targeting Palawan as the next big destination in the Philippines.

However, Palawan’s most attractive location, Coron—which has some of the best scuba diving in the world and is the site of one of Banyan Tree’s new resorts—is still served only by a handful of small low-cost airlines that fly between Manila and Coron’s Busuanga airport.

Thanks to active investment interest and help from regional authorities, the airport has recently seen its basic infrastructure upgraded in order to accommodate larger aircrafts. Yet international connectivity will remain limited as long as the airport is unable to handle a larger volume of traffic. Seats on smaller aircrafts often sell out, and flight schedules are not necessarily convenient for international visitors coming through Manila.

Even the popular Boracay, which enjoys several daily flights and more convenient flight schedules, is limited to smaller aircraft, constraining its flow of visitors.

As one local tour operator told OBG, “The development of the Philippine tourism industry is currently driven not by demand, but by capacity. If you remove the transport and infrastructure bottlenecks, investors will come and visitors will come.”

In particular, the country needs to further the growth in regional tourism from countries such as China, Japan and South Korea, which accounted for around 50 percent of visitors in 2007.

The onus is therefore on central and regional authorities to upgrade the Philippines’ infrastructure so as to diversify its tourism sector. This is necessary if the country is to break into the fast lane of the growing regional tourism market.

By Oxford Business Group


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