AN archipelago of over 7,600 islands, the Philippines is home to some of the best beaches in the world—we’re biased, of course—and the most pristine, }deepest azure waters that host a myriad of colorful marine life.
Aside from the beaches and diving spots, the Philippines also boasts of rugged mountainous terrain that is a joy for climbers to scale and conquer. In the cities and other urban sprawls, there are shopping malls, museums, heritage churches, entertainment clubs, recreational spots and other manmade attractions that are thronged with foreign and domestic travelers.
All these, along with a steady marketing program designed to portray the Philippines as a “fun” destination, add up to a significant improvement in the country’s foreign visitor arrivals in the last six years. From just 3.52 million foreign tourists in 2010, arrivals in 2016 were just shy of the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) 6-million target, the difference owing to a marked slowdown in Chinese tourists due to the diplomatic tension between Manila and Beijing.
Domestic tourists were another story. During the five-year period to 2015 (data for 2016 is not yet available), domestic travelers increased from some 28 million in 2010 to about 67.82 million in 2015, or a jump of nearly 142 percent.
Most travel industry stalwarts attribute this to the DOT’s successful “It’s More Fun in the Philippines” brand campaign that encouraged participation from the Filipinos themselves. Many of them, just getting the hang of Facebook and Twitter, while discovering other social-media platforms, were the most eager to share the different memes depicting the good times that can be had when traveling to different points in the Philippines.
ANNA Karenina Policarpio, chief operating officer of Dale Carnegie in the Philippines, echoed the slogan’s success in promoting Philippine destinations.
No stranger to frequent travels abroad for work and holiday, she and her friends started ticking off a list of local destinations to go to “after seeing all those ‘more fun’ memes.”
“Parang everyone had a renewed consciousness about the beautiful destinations and activities our own country had to offer,” Policarpio said.
Since the “more fun” campaign was launched in the 2011, Policarpio, her friends and her family have traveled to Cebu, Dumaguete, Bohol, Bacolod, Davao and Coron in Palawan. They have made annual visits to Baguio and Boracay, the latter, famous the world over for its remarkable powdery white-sand beach.
Some of the destinations she mentioned, such as Boracay, Bohol, Cebu and Davao, are on the DOT’s list of top Philippine destinations. The others include Banaue, in the province of Ifugao, where the Banaue Rice Terraces is located, and which has been declared a National Cultural Treasure by the Philippine government; Manila, the Philippines’s capital and the country’s heart and soul, which offers travelers an exciting blend of Oriental and Western attractions, from thrilling jeepney rides to a pulsating night life, which is the envy of many Southeast Asian cities; and Vigan, Ilocos Sur, decreed a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), for being the best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia.
A peek into more data from the DOT, however, indicates other surprising tourism hot spots in the country.
In 2015 a partial report from the government tourism agency put Camarines Sur on the top of the country’s most
visited destination by foreign and local tourists with arrivals hitting some 2.06 million. The province is most well known for the Our Lady of Peñafrancia fiesta every September, where the miraculous image is paraded in a procession, attracting devotees all over the country. It is also home to Lake Buhi, where the smallest, commercially harvested fish, the Sinarapan, thrives. The province, however, acquired a hipster vibe, now dubbed “CamSur”, when a wakeboarding complex was constructed by the local government, attracting quite a substantial number of millennials.
Subic Bay in Zambales is also a popular destination, with 1.46 million in visitor arrivals in 2015. Its proximity to Manila, along with its ecotourism offerings and its good-sized number of hotels and recreational facilities, make it a consistent choice for government agencies and private firms seeking an out-of-town venue for conferences, meetings, team-building seminars and the like. A former US Naval Base, Subic is also a frequent stopover for American military troops during their rest-and-recreation periods.
THE province of Albay is another destination that is a magnet for visitors, mainly due to Mount Mayon, a still-active volcano that erupts every few years.
Its nearly perfect cone and gently sloping slides is a breathtaking site to behold, rivaling that of Mount Fuji in Japan.
Albay is also favored by tourists because of the Cagsawa Ruins, remnants of an old church buried in lava from Mayon’s eruption in the 1814. The province also offers heritage churches and tunnels constructed by the Japanese during World War II in Ligñon Hill. One can also ride an all-terrain vehicle and go off-roading or above roads via a zipline in many areas around Mount Mayon’s safety perimeter.
To be continued