While Chiang Mai is promoted as the tourism center of spa
and wellness in Thailand, there is another emerging destination claiming to
become the health hub of Southeast Asia, namely the Philippines with its
7,107 islands, its natural wonders and rich history. Considered the third
largest English-speaking country in the world, the Philippines also offer
excellent hotels, fine restaurants and modern shopping malls.
Joseph “Ace” Durano of the Philippine Department of Tourism
Following an invitation of the Department of Tourism in
Manila and Philippine Airlines in Bangkok, I attended the 16th Philippine
Travel Mart (PTM) held at the SM Megamall in Manila on September 9-11,
organized by the Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA). PTM is the
only trade exhibition showcasing the country’s travel products,
attractions and services. The country expects some 2.5 million tourists in
2005 - a far cry from Thailand’s 12 million visitors.
There were 188 exhibitors to welcome some 79 hosted
buyers and 7 media representatives. The foreign participants were separately
invited to the Philippine Travel Exchange (PHITEX) held at the Crown Plaza
Galleria Hotel on September 10 to conduct business under one roof with their
qualified 95 Philippine sellers. Interesting to note is that the biggest
delegation of buyers came from Russia closely followed by the traditional
markets of Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan, as there were only a few buyers from
Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano of the Philippine
Department of Tourism honored the delegates and guests with a Grand Dinner
Reception at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel, where the Islands history was
illustrated through a period-inspired dance performance.
It was on March 21, 1521 that the Portuguese ship captain
Ferdinand Magellan, sailing under the Spanish flag, reached the Philippine
archipelago in the course of his first circumnavigation around the globe.
Later, in 1543, the Spanish admiral Ruy Lopez de Villalobos visited the
islands, naming them “Felipinas” in honor of the Spanish Crown Prince,
who became King Philip II. Thus began 333 years of Spanish colonization that
makes the culture of the Philippines unique within the ASEAN region – an
influence that until today is felt in the Catholic religion, music, dance,
dress and cuisine. The influence of America since 1896 is only a minor one.
of Cebu include the cross of Magellan that was used to have baptized the
local Queen Juana and 400 of her followers
The vast majority of Filipinos are descendants of Malay,
Chinese and Muslim minorities. More than 100 ethnic groups are scattered
throughout the mountainous island world. The Philippines has three main
clusters of islands, namely Luzon in the north, the Visayas in the middle
and Mindanao in the south. The country has 79 provinces grouped into 16
During the post-forum tour to the beach and dive
destinations of Bohol and Cebu, the concept of the new marketing plan was
highlighted in order to make the Philippines the “Islands of Wellness.”
The 12 participants of this familiarization trip inspected the Panglao
Island Nature Resort in Bohol, where real paradise is found.
Tagbilaran, the capital of Bohol, is just an hour away by
plane from Manila and is the starting point of a countryside bus ride to the
island’s signature attraction, the 1,268 chocolate hills, which are 2
million years old and according to local folklore the tears of a giant. On
the way back, you have lunch on a floating restaurant on the scenic Loboc
River and encounter the tarsier, one of the smallest living primates, with
its tail longer than its body. One of the oldest stone coral churches in the
Philippines, the Baclayon Church, is located in Bohol.
From Bohol, it was a two hours Ocean Jet ride to Cebu in
the heart of the Visayas and nearly 600 km south of Manila. It was in Cebu,
where Magellan arrived in 1521, but was killed in a battle with the local
chieftain Lapu-Lapu, whose memorial stands in the city of Mactan Island that
bears his name. Mactan Island is linked to the mainland by two bridges and
houses Shangri-La’s gorgeous Mactan Island Resort, which recently opened
its “Chi” Spa Village, the first and largest spa resort of its kind in
the Philippines. Our group stayed in the nearby new Hilton Cebu Resort,
where GM Wolfgang Maier from Mainz, Germany gave us a hearty welcome.
of the oldest stone coral catholic churches in the Philippines, the Baclayon
Church, located in Bohol.
For many tourists, the obligatory Cebuano souvenir
purchase is a hand-made guitar from the Alegre Guitars Factory. Other
attractions of Cebu include the cross of Magellan that was used to have
baptized the local Queen Juana and 400 of her followers as well as the
Basilica del Santo Nino, where inside is the most famous religious statue in
Back in Manila, a sprawling metropolis, I spent the last
evening in the German Club, which was founded in 1906 and still is an
authentic piece of Old Europe right in the business district of Makati. I
wondered how the Philippines could be marketed in China, India, Thailand and
Malaysia. Certainly, there will be a future rush to its Ninoy Aquino
International Airport in Manila as a gateway to the Islands of Wellness. The
most convenient and economic connection to fly there from Chiang Mai is by
ThaiAirAsia’s morning flight at 8.20 to connect to the daily 1.50 p.m.
departure with Philippine Airlines in Bangkok.
There will be the next ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) to be
held in Davao on the island of Mindanao during January 13-21, 2006. That is
the time, when the Philippines will come right into the spotlight and offer
its many tourism pearls to the world.
shrine of Lapu Lapu, the national hero of the Philippines
chocolate hills in Bohol, a nature heritage sight.
the Panglao Island Nature Resort in Bohol
restaurants on the scenic Loboc River
Aquino International Airport in Manila as a gateway to the Islands of
Wellness with 3 terminals now