Unfazed by swine flu and the global recession, the country expects a robust tourism industry with a growing number of European unconventional tour groups setting their sights on the ecological attractions of the Philippines.
On top of the traditional divers and leisure travelers, Tourism Secretary Ace Durano cited the growing impact of alternative travel markets in Europe, which rose from changes in the global scenario. “We are now seeing a more significant number of high-spending tourists looking for places of raw and rustic charm without the trappings of mass tourism. We are equipped for these shifts in the tourism industry’s landscape.”
Durano announced this development during the Far East Live Seminar (FELS) of more than 250 travel retailers of Meier’s Weltreisen’s, Europe’s biggest long-haul travel firm from Germany. A trip to a destination that takes between 10-15 hours is considered long-haul travel.
The FELS workshop entailed pretours of Baguio, Banaue, Bohol, Boracay, Cebu, Dumaguete, Negros, Palawan and Sagada.
For most of the agents, the Banaue Rice Terraces stood out as a one-of-a-kind heritage site they haven’t encountered anywhere in the world. The caves, hills, and hanging coffins of Sagada were also cited for their distinctive and idyllic appeal even for seasoned travelers. “Most of them have been to our country for the first time. They are surprised to discover the wide range of ecotourism adventures that we offer,” Durano further said.
Following Meier’s, the Department of Tourism (DOT) is set to receive a new batch of 100 travel specialists from four major Swiss travel operators, Wettiene, Tour Asia, Flex and Kuoni, in the present and succeeding months.
According to Eduardo Jarque, Jr., Undersecretary for Tourism Planning and Promotions, the country has managed to build a continuing relationship with Europe’s tourism industry through its participation in major travel missions, aggressive marketing of European-based tourism offices, concessions with local partners and strong presence in foreign media.
“This is not an overnight success, but rather a long journey of negotiations, promotions, and involvement, complemented with the unyielding support of our partner hotels, resorts, transportation firms, and travel operators,” Jarque said.
The country is likewise a year-round destination, another desirable rarity for Europeans, according to Venus Tan, DOT Director for Western, Central and Eastern Europe.
“They are interested in unique culture so they plan their visits at different times of the year. They want to experience a country’s diversity also through festivals and celebrations,” said Tan. The country holds around five major festivals in a month, sometimes in just one region, adds Tan.
Sedat Tatli, Director Division for Asia of Meier’s Weltreisen, was quick to point out another factor that draws tourists, “It’s easy to hop around the islands because almost everybody speaks English.”
Eric Roufs, travel retailer for Dutch operator Paul Crombag, agreed, “Some of my clients will ask me to buy them a ticket to the Philippines then they go on their own to book flights and accommodations to the other islands. Accessible language and transportation allow them to add spontaneity to their holidays.”